Wang Lung has often heard of war, but the closest he came to it was in the southern city. He’s heard men say they’ll go to war, but war never seemed real. One day his second son tells him that the price of grain has gone up because a war is approaching. Wang Lung looks forward to seeing it. He’s not afraid because he’s old and rich. He goes about his life as usual.
Wang Lung has never been aware of the greater political events going on around him, even when he was in closer proximity to them in the city. In a way, he’s like the land, remaining aloof and only aware of his immediate surroundings. Foolishly, he thinks his wealth will protect him.
One day ranks of men in uniforms march through the streets holding weapons. Their fierce expressions frighten Wang Lung, but just as he’s about to lock the gate his uncle’s son marches by and catches sight of him. He tells the other soldiers that Wang Lung will take care of them, so they quickly take over the house. Wang Lung is powerless. He desperately tells his eldest son what’s happened. The eldest son decides he has to be courteous because the soldiers are all armed, so he welcomes his cousin and offers the soldiers a meal before they leave. The cousin says they’ll stay for a long time, until they go to the war. Wang Lung and his son have to pretend to be glad.
Perhaps Wang Lung’s wealth can protect him from some catastrophes, but he still hasn’t shed the problem of his uncle’s son, which originated with family responsibility and has now morphed into a fear for his own life. Wang Lung discovers that world events do actually affect him, even if he has no desire to get involved in them. Though wealth is power, it’s not necessarily more powerful than governments and human violence.
Dismayed, Wang Lung and his eldest son bar the door of the inner court. The second son rushes in with news that the soldiers have taken over all the houses in town, and one of the clerks where he works was killed when he protested their presence in his house. He says they must give the soldiers whatever they want. They decide to hide their women in the innermost court to protect them. They guard the gate night and day.
Just as the House of Hwang was robbed by a mob, Wang Lung’s family now finds themselves beset by a mob of another sort. The situation also demonstrates that the government at this time is not working effectively for its people, as the soldiers are destroying citizens’ lives instead of protecting them.
They have to allow the uncle’s son into the inner courts because he’s family, however. He comes and admires the sons’ wives, flirting with the second son’s wife and insulting the elder son’s wife. Then he goes to Lotus and calls her “Old Mistress,” saying he can tell Wang Lung is rich by how fat she is. Lotus is flattered and gives him a flirtatious look.
Familial obligations to the cousin continue to undermine the safety of Wang Lung’s family. The cousin is even bolder in his troublemaking than he was before. Even he sees the family’s similarities to the House of Hwang, as he calls Lotus “Old Mistress.”
Finally Wang Lung shows the uncle’s son to his mother’s room. He wakes the uncle’s wife by banging his gun on the floor. She’s amazed to see him, and can only think to offer him her opium pipe, but he refuses. Wang Lung is worried he’ll be angry for what Wang Lung has done to his mother, so he pretends to begrudge the money the opium costs him. When she falls back asleep, her son leaves.
The cousin doesn’t exactly express affection for his mother, instead treating her with characteristic roughness. In contrast, she’s lost all of her bite and struggles to perceive any world beyond her opium-induced dreams. Luckily, her son doesn’t guess that her addiction is all Wang Lung’s doing.
The soldiers destroy the outer courtyards, but the family is most afraid of the uncle’s son, for he comes into the courts and looks lustfully at the slaves. Cuckoo says they need to give him a slave for himself, and Wang Lung approves. He sends Cuckoo to the cousin, who tells her he wants a slave named Pear Blossom, whom Wang Lung bought in a year of famine to serve Lotus. When Pear Blossom hears, she drops a teapot and cries in fear of the cousin. Lotus commands her to go to him anyway, though she begs not to. Wang Lung’s family can’t speak against Lotus, and Wang Lung doesn’t want to anger her.
Wang Lung hopes that if he gives his nephew one slave woman, he’ll be able to satisfy his lusts. Pear Blossom was the young girl whom Wang Lung bought almost out of pity, because she was so thin. Now, Lotus displays the misogyny of her society as she sees no problem with forcing Pear Blossom to sleep with a man when she begs not to. It’s clear that Lotus has gained plenty of power in the household.
Pear Blossom can tell that Wang Lung pities her, so she weeps at his feet. He tells Cuckoo he doesn’t want to force Pear Blossom, but Lotus calls her foolish for resisting. Wang Lung says he’ll buy Lotus something to pacify her, and he sends Cuckoo to tell the uncle’s son that Pear Blossom has a terrible disease. One of the other slaves offers herself to him, and Cuckoo takes her to him. Wang Lung examines Pear Blossom kindly and tells her to avoid Lotus and the cousin.
Wang Lung can be particularly softhearted in the right situation. In contrast, Lotus seems to think that because she was willing to offer up her body to any man, Pear Blossom should be, too. This recalls O-lan’s willingness to sell her daughter even though she herself was a slave. Women continue to practice their own oppression on other women.
The uncle’s son gets his slave pregnant before the troops are called away to the war. When he leaves, he boasts that he’s leaving a son behind, and says soldiers are lucky because they can make others take care of their children when they go on their way.
The uncle’s son exhibits extreme irresponsibility for his own actions. In fact, he doesn’t even think he’s shirking responsibility; he thinks he has no responsibility to help take care of his own child.