It is spring, and O-lan and the boys head to the countryside to scour for food they can get without begging and without money. Wang continues to work as a ricksha puller, although the harsh winter that has just passed takes its toll on his already weak body.
Some nights, those who reside in the makeshift huts head out for light conversation, and Wang joins them occasionally. Yet hearing them talk, he knows that he is not one of them, since he is careful with his money and he owns land, to which he is eager to return. When the men discuss what they would purchase if they were the rich man who lived beyond the wall, Wang is called a country bumpkin for his wish to purchase more land. He is ridiculed for not understanding the greatness of "city life," but nevertheless, Wang continues to live each day in a hazy daze, hoping for the day he might return to the country.
Wang is exposed to many new things in the city, especially a curious picture he is handed with a depiction of Christ and the Crucifixion, of whom Wang is ignorant. In fact, after showing the drawing to his family, they surmise that the man must have been very "evil to be thus hung." O-lan then uses the paper as a shoe sole, and the subject is quickly forgotten.
The next drawing Wang comes across also perks his interest: a fat man standing over a dead figure after he has killed him. A man explains to Wang that the poor is the dead figure and that the fat man is the capitalist who makes and keeps him poor. Wang is particularly intrigued by this explanation, that the rich had anything to do with the rains failing to arrive to water his fields, but he is again chided for his stupidity when he inquiries. If the rich would share their wealth, it would not matter if it rained or not, they condescendingly explain. Wang is unconvinced, but he notices that his neighbors grow resentful against the rich man beyond the wall where they have their huts.
One day, Wang witnesses the seizing of a man by some armed soldiers, and terrified, he hides in a nearby shop. The shop owner explains to Wang that the kidnapped man will be used in war, where he will be paid nothing and be kept from his family. Wang runs quickly to O-lan to relay the awful events. Determined not to be the next victim, Wang refuses to go outside during the day, only to take small night jobs to earn a living. When something needed doing during the day, Wang commissions his two sons, who come back excited from seeing and hearing new things. Wang seems to be on the verge of cracking, and one night he bursts into tears yearning for the land. O-lan, however, only calmly asks for his patience, saying there is talk that something will happen soon.
The city is paralyzed, as the soldiers continue to make their way through the streets. The stores are closed, the people are cautious, and the family remains indoors. Yet Wang and the other hut dwellers are not afraid, since even to lose their sad lives was not too awful. Wang's night job also shuts down, and he is unemployed. Moreover, the public kitchens have closed and the empty streets have removed begging as an option, causing Wang to once again consider selling his daughter to help the family survive. He asks O-lan to tell him what the girl's future might be in a rich man's house, but before he can come to an ultimate decision, he hears a loud noise, like the "cracking of heaven."
The family falls to the floor in fear, and O-lan surmises that the enemy has broken through the gates. In shock, Wang does not know what to make of the situation, and he gets a strange feeling listening to the sounds around him.
He hears the great creaking of a door, and a neighbor runs over to tell him that the rich man's gates are open! Wang comes out of the hut and sees a mass of people clamoring towards the rich man's house. Wang cannot help but be swept up by the crowds and soon he finds himself inside the large but now empty house. The crowds flee with the house's possessions, taking from each box and closet what they can hold in their hands.
But Wang takes nothing, and instead he wanders dazed into an inner room, where he comes upon one of the original residents of the house. This fat man, who thinks he has escaped the mob, is shocked to see Wang and falls to his knees to plead for his life, thinking Wang is going to kill him. He offers Wang money, and the very sound of the word changes Wang, who demands it from the fat man. Once his hands are full of gold, Wang makes his exit from the house, carefully clutching the means by which his family will return to their land.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Chapter 2 and 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13