The Oriole’s Song is a love story — love of family, of entwined cultures, of life itself — during and after the turmoil of war. This beautiful recollection of an American girlhood in China during World War II is a continual delight with large insights and small moments made exqusite by delicate prose. On May 17, 1951, Dwight Rugh — a Yale-in-China representative for twenty years and one of the last Americans remaining in China after the Communist Revolution — was taken from his home in Changsha to a mass rally where he was denounced as an imperialist spy. Twenty-three years later, his daughter was one of the first Americans to enter China after it reopened to the West. Despite the fact that the Cultural Revolution was in full sway, she visited the site of her father’s “trial” and met with some of his friends and colleagues who had been compelled to participate in the proceedings. In this evocative and beautifully written memoir, BJ Elder tells the remarkable story of her family and what it was like for her, an only child, to grow up in China during the Second World War. Born in Hunan, hers was a childhood spent in two languages and “between two names.” In a remote river town, she shares the terrors and enthusiasms of her Chinese friends, hides from Japanese bombs, struggles over Chinese calligraphy, and spends enchanted summers in a hidden valley. Yet she thinks of America as “home.” When the family goes home to the United States, however, she finds herself drawn back to the country of her birth. This is an account of how one person has tried to make sense of the past, of being formed by two cultures yet never completely belonging to either, of seeing the world from one point of view, but feeling the presence of another, like print coming through from the other side of the page. In the end, two decades after the Cultural Revolution, she takes us “home” again to a much more open China, where she comes to terms with the past and with her place between the two worlds she has known.
The Oriole’s Song
An American Girlhood in Wartime China
June 2003 | 226 pages
$5.99 (e-book) | ISBN 978-1-78869-123-9
$14.99 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1-78869-059-1
$24.99 (hardback) | ISBN 978-1-78869-060-7
“For teachers, students, anyone alert to America’s historic engagement in Asia, Mrs. Elder’s book will be richly rewarding.”
—Douglas Murray, President Emeritus, Lingnan Foundation
“This book was the best memoir of an author’s growing up years (in another country because of parents’ careers) that I have ever read. The experiences were very novel due to the exotic setting of China before World War II, and the author’s word choices read, at times, like lyric poetry. She has a deft way of moving between the action she’s relating and the memories of her past that they bring back to her.”
—Madlon T. Laster
About the Author
BJ Elder, born Betty Jean Rugh in 1933 in Hunan Province, spent most of her first sixteen years in China. She married David Elder and spent her later life in Philadelphia, where she raised two daughters and worked as a Nurse Practitioner. BJ Elder died in March 2017 at the age of 84.
Four Hundred Million Customers (1937) is a collection of humorous essays and piquant anecdotes underpinned by well-informed insight and highlighted by witty drawings by G. Sapojnikoff. Like a bowl of salted peanuts, these vignettes make you want “more.” The book was welcomed on its publication as the most entertaining and instructive introduction to the rapidly modernizing people […]
China and Postsocialist Anthropology applies lessons learned from socialist governance, especially in China, to the realm of social theory. Socialist governance explicitly draws on various aspects of Marxist theory and thus directly illuminates issues as varied as theorizing power, imagining the relationship between continuity and discontinuity in historical process, utilizing the category of “the political” […]
Edited By Samuel C. Chu
When Soong Meiling, better known to the world as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, died in October 2003, her life of over a century almost exactly paralleled America’s own century of direct involvement with Asia, which began with the acquisition of the Philippines. Alone among Western Powers, the United States championed an Open Door policy toward China. […]
The most comprehensive analysis and reference on the enormous water resource crisis confronting the People’s Republic of China. China’s Water Crisis (Zhongguo shui weiji) describes in detail the history of floods, water scarcity, and pollution problems in all seven of China’s major drainage basins and proposes solutions for future sustainable management.
Richard L. Williams
The year 1979 marked turning points in both contemporary Chinese history and Sino-American relations. Deng Xiaoping initiated market reforms and an opening to the global economy which would transform China, with Guangzhou (Canton) at the forefront. Washington and Beijing’s mutual diplomatic recognition triggered an across-the-board expansion of relations between the United States and China. When […]
Edited By Joshua A. Fogel
The roots of modern Sino-Japanese relations lie in the intense cultural and political exchanges which blossomed in the mid-1850s extending into the late 1920s. Scholarly interest has grown over the last two decades in the interaction between China and Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While much of that interest has centered […]