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From Lotus, surprisingly, Wang Lung learns of a suitable bride for his eldest son, the daughter of the respectable grain merchant Liu, who was a client of the House of Flowers tea house. Cuckoo offers to make the match. Meanwhile, the boy comes home drunk after a night with a prostitute, and Wang Lung orders his uncle, the wife, and their son-who is corrupting his own son-out of his house. But his uncle slyly shows Wang the false beard he wears as a member of a gang of local bandits, the notorious Redbeards. Wang is trapped. He must keep this uncle and his family in the house as protection against the gang.
A natural echo of this unnatural human evil arrives in the form of a plague of locusts, which again drives Wang back to the land. He organizes his workers and the younger farmers to fight the swarms of locusts. They battle for seven days and nights, saving some of the harvest. Although the villagers and O-lan serve the locusts roasted or fried, Wang will not eat these enemies of the land. By showing that such natural enemies have some good use, isn't the author making another strong contrast between natural calamities and the evil behavior that causes only misery? The fight to save his fields and the return to the land has brought Wang calm.
Wang's eldest son wants to leave the land and go south to the university. Wang is angry and compares his tall, slim son with fine skin and soft hands to himself, thick-bodied and sunburnt. He roars at his son to work in the fields so as not to be mistaken for a woman. But O-lan tells Wang indirectly that this son is spending time with Lotus, and she advises that the youth be sent south as he asks. Wang catches his son and Lotus talking together. In a towering rage he beats them both. Lotus pleads with him, assuring him that the boy comes only to talk to her. Wang Lung calms down and gives the boy permission to leave home.
What do you think of Wang Lung's behavior toward his son? As a youth Wang Lung had to work in the fields or starve. But as the son of a well-to-do farmer, this youth has nothing to do. In the isolated countryside he apparently has no friends and nowhere to go for entertainment, except the forbidden places the uncle's son has led him to. Wang's own youth was so different that he seems to have little understanding of his son's emotional needs.
In this chapter a contrast is again drawn between O-lan and Lotus, this time in terms of what the passing years have done to each. Living a soft life, Lotus has become rounded, less fragile and more beautiful. O-lan is now gaunt and worn, and her abdomen is swollen, apparently with a tumor. Wang Lung still takes her for granted and doesn't notice that she is dragging herself painfully about her duties.
Wang Lung now considers the situation of his second son. This boy has also scorned working in the fields and demands to be sent to school like his brother. Otherwise he is very unlike the eldest son. Slightly built, crafty, and with a touch of malicious humor, he reminds Wang of his own father. This boy should make a good merchant. Wang apprentices him to the grain merchant Liu, to whose daughter the eldest son is already betrothed. At the same time Wang arranges a betrothal between his second daughter, now ten, and a son of Liu's who is the same age.
This daughter is a pretty child who walks gracefully on her bound feet, but cries from the pain she has to endure. Although Wang is kind and would let her have her feet unbound, the girl knows she must go on or "My husband would not love me even as you do not love my mother."
NOTE: ON FOOT-BINDING
Foot-binding, a peculiarly Chinese custom, arose in early China as a way for women to please men with their tiny feet and to enhance the man's status by this evidence that his wife or concubine didn't need to work. You might compare bound feet with the "wasp" waists that were fashionable for Western women in the last century. A man could circle his two hands around such a narrow waist, which a woman achieved only by wearing tight corsets that squeezed and displaced her internal organs. Understandably, many women suffered injury and illness. Foot-binding, although more crippling, had the same purpose-to please men.
The origin of foot-binding has been traced to the T'ang Dynasty (A.D. 618 to 907), a time of high artistic achievement in the imperial court. According to legend, a favorite court dancer bound her feet to squeeze them into small dancing shoes. The style caught on among the well-to-do. The practice began when a little girl was five or six. Her feet were bound in cloth to force the toes and heel to curl under, causing the arch and instep to rise unnaturally. Periodically the bindings were tightened.
Wang is stung by the truth of his daughter's remark and remorseful at his treatment of O-lan. Furthermore, he now realizes that O-lan is ill. He sends her to lie down and goes for the doctor.
The doctor, who prescribes a broth of herbs, will charge 500 pieces of silver for a cure. O-lan says that her life is not worth that much, a sum that could buy a good piece of land. Wang protests that he has the money. But the doctor, knowing that the illness is fatal, says he must charge not 500 but 5000 pieces of silver for a cure. Wang understands. The silver that can buy more land cannot buy life; nature, unlike men, cannot be changed by riches the way riches can change men.