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.
This classic account (1952) of the makers of “New Japan” tells the life stories of a journalist, an ex-Navy vice-admiral, a steel worker, a farmer, and Emperor Hirohito. Frank Gibney was a wartime intelligence officer who became Time magazine correspondent during the American Occupation of Japan. He went on to be a major interpreter of Japan to […]
Everlasting Empire is a Korean historical novel written as a murder mystery. The narrator frames the main story with his “discovery” of a 150-year-old manuscript. Because of problems verifying the authenticity of the manuscript, the narrator offers the book not as genuine history but as a story. This compelling tale is set at a pivotal moment […]
Donald N. Clark
Korea was “discovered” by the West after World War II when it became a flashpoint in the Cold War. Before the war, however, it was home to many hundreds of Westerners who experienced life there under Japanese colonial rule. These included missionaries who opened Korea as a field for evangelism, education, and medicine; speculators who […]
Taken from journals and letters written during the final decades of the Manchu Empire and the chaotic years of revolution and civil war leading up to the War of Resistance (1937–1945), this is the story of the life and work of the Protestant missionaries who opened their first station in the upper Min River region […]
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.
Shaoyi Sun & Li Xun
In Lights! Camera! Kaishi! Sun and Li interview twenty-one young Chinese movie-makers on a variety of challenges facing them as cinema gradually emerges from the PRC’s long-standing censorship restrictions. Assembled by theme, the reader experiences a sense of eavesdropping on an open discussion between with these notable film directors. Includes biographical sketches (with color photos) of each […]