As the New Year approaches, Wang Lung makes preparations, gluing red paper with symbols for happiness and riches onto his farm tools and symbols for good luck on the doors. His father makes new dresses for the temple figures out of more red paper, and Wang Lung burns incense in the temple. He also buys candles to burn under the picture of a god in his house.
The New Year is an important festival in which the Chinese honor their gods and ancestors and look forward to good fortune in the coming year. Wang Lung’s preparations center around the earth, as he decorates his farm tools and makes offerings to the earth gods. His fortune comes from the land.
O-lan bakes fancy moon cakes like those eaten in the House of Hwang. When Wang Lung sees how beautiful they are, he’s very proud. His father wants Wang Lung’s uncle to see them, but Wang Lung thinks the uncle’s family would want to eat them. O-lan says that she’s going to bring the cakes to the Old Mistress when she visits with the baby after the New Year. Wang Lung is very pleased with the idea, and can think only of this upcoming visit. On the first day of the new year, his uncle and his neighbors come to the house to celebrate, and Wang Lung makes sure that the best of the cakes are hidden.
Wang Lung loves the idea of showing off his good fortune to the Old Mistress, particularly after he felt so ashamed in front of her. Similarly, O-lan is eager to prove to her former mistress that she has value in the world, particularly as it becomes increasingly apparent that she wasn’t treated well at all at the House of Hwang. The moon cakes symbolize the first step in Wang Lung’s journey to replacing the Hwangs.
On the second day of the New Year, women visit each other. O-lan dresses the baby in his fancy new clothes, and she and Wang Lung also dress well. They go to the House of Hwang. Wang Lung is gratified by the gateman’s amazement at the sight of his family. The gateman can tell that Wang Lung has done well in the past year, and he invites Wang Lung to wait for O-lan in his own house. Wang Lung proudly watches his wife and son go into the great house, then enters the gateman’s house. He takes the honorable seat offered by the gateman’s wife, but he declines to drink the tea she gives him, as though it’s not good enough for him.
The first time the gateman met Wang Lung, he treated the farmer with disdain. The change in his attitude shows how Wang Lung’s social status has increased as his wealth increased—the presence of his son, along with his family’s good clothing, make the man treat Wang Lung with respect. Wang Lung feels his respect acutely and will seek out this sort of respect in the future. He even tries to flip the tables socially by disdaining the gateman’s wife’s tea, which seems rather arrogant.
When the gateman brings O-lan back, Wang Lung examines her face and can tell that all has gone well. As they leave the house, he takes the baby and eagerly asks how the visit went. O-lan whispers in shock that it seems the House of Hwang is lacking in money. The Old Mistress and the slaves were all wearing the same coats as the previous year. The clothes of O-lan and the child were better than those she saw in the house.
Just as Wang Lung first begins to show off his increasing wealth, he finds out that the House of Hwang is decreasing in wealth, beginning a symbolic switch in their places that will take the entire book to complete. In this initial stage, Wang Lung and O-lan regard the Hwangs’ misfortune as almost unthinkable.
Wang Lung exults at this news, but fears that evil spirits will want to spoil his happiness. He hides the child and says aloud that it is a sickly female. O-lan agrees. He asks what has caused this change in the fortunes of the great house, and O-lan tells him that the young lords spend too much money, the Old Lord has many concubines, and the Old Mistress never stops eating opium. A daughter about to get married has a huge dowry and demands all the best clothes.
Wang Lung again feels the oncoming doom that good luck spells in a world where fortune changes quickly. He and O-lan try to fool luck (in the form of evil spirits) by pretending their luck is bad. The House of Hwang is consumed by what their wealth has given them; they are sinking in luxury. They use their wealth for vice, and it will destroy them.
The Old Mistress told O-lan that the family is looking to sell land just outside the city wall. This entirely convinces Wang Lung of the family’s fallen fortunes, since land is the most important thing. Suddenly he decides with triumph that he’ll buy the land. O-lan argues that it’s too far from their house, and he should instead buy land closer to them. Wang Lung says that the closer land has bad soil. He imagines going to the Old Lord as an equal and buying the land with his own money, and he thinks that O-lan, who used to be a slave in the House of Hwang, will instead be the wife of a man who owns the Hwangs’ land. O-lan realizes this, too, and agrees that he should buy the land.
Wang Lung values his land so highly that he absolutely can’t imagine wanting to sell land for any reason other than desperation. The life-giving symbolism of land in this book means that in buying the Hwangs’ land, Wang Lung also buys their life, meaning this is another step in his path to making his family into the “new” Hwangs. Though he wants the land for itself, he more strongly wants it for the triumph he will feel at buying the land of the people who have oppressed him and his wife.