But Wang Lung thought of his land and pondered this way and that, with the sickened heart of deferred hope, how he could get back to it.
One day, a Western missionary gives Wang Lung a paper. Wang Lung is illiterate and cannot read the words printed on it. His father looks at the paper, which is printed with a picture of a man nailed to a crosspiece, and states that the man must have been evil to have met such a fate. O-lan uses the paper to line her family’s ragged shoes. Another man hands Wang Lung a paper depicting a fat man stabbing a thin man dressed in rags. A man giving a speech states that the fat man represents the rich and the capitalists, and the thin man represents the poor. Wang Lung snorts at the man’s speech since he views land, rather than money or food, as the only lasting thing. He saves the paper for repairing shoes.
Soldiers begin forcibly conscripting poor men into the army. Wang Lung does not know what the fighting is about or who the combatants are. The rich begin transporting their goods out of the city. The markets empty out and the public kitchens close. Wang Lung again considers selling his daughter. Worried for his daughter’s safety, he asks O-lan if she was beaten in the House of Hwang. She replies, in a passionless monotone, that she was beaten every day with a leather thong. When he asks her if pretty girls were beaten, she replies in a long speech that not only were they beaten, but from the time they were children, they were raped by the lords of the house, sometimes by different lords in one night.
As Wang Lung wonders what to do with his daughter, the enemy invades the city, and the impoverished multitude ransacks the houses of the rich. Wang Lung participates in the looting and comes away with a stash of gold coins. He is thrilled, because the gold will provide him with the means to return home.
Hunger makes thief of any man.
Wang Lung purchases some seed and an ox and returns home. There, he discovers that his house has been ransacked. Ching informs Wang Lung that some bandits, rumored to be affiliated with Wang Lung’s uncle, lived in Wang Lung’s house during the winter. Ching’s wife has died, and he gave his daughter to a soldier rather than see her starve. Wang Lung gives Ching some seed to plant his land and offers to plow it for him. He wants to repay Ching for the handful of beans Ching gave him months before. Wang Lung learns that his uncle sold all of his daughters.
Wang Lung is not disheartened about the dilapidated state of his house; it will be easily mended, and his land is still the same. Excited about their renewed prosperity, but worried about bad luck, Wang Lung and O-lan buy incense sticks to burn for the gods.
Wang Lung discovers that O-lan stole some jewels during the looting in the south. Because she had lived in a wealthy house, she knew where the rich hid their treasures. Wang Lung declares that they should buy more land with the jewels. O-lan asks to keep only two small pearls, and Wang Lung agrees. When he goes to the House of Hwang to inquire about buying more land, Wang Lung is amazed to find that only the Old Master and a slave, Cuckoo, still live there. Over the course of his discussion with the slave, who is running the place, he learns that bandits raided the house, taking the slaves and the goods, and that the Old Mistress died from shock during the furor of the attack. Wang Lung uses the jewels to purchase three hundred acres of the Old Master’s land.