A Chinese peasant overcomes the forces of nature and the frailties of human nature to become a wealthy landowner.
Pearl S. Buck was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Pearl began to publish stories and essays in the 1920s, in magazines such as The Nation, The Chinese Recorder, Asia, and The Atlantic Monthly. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published by the John Day Company in 1930. In 1931, John Day published Pearl's second novel, The Good Earth. This became the bestselling book of both 1931 and 1932, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Howells Medal in 1935, and would be adapted as a major MGM film in 1937. In 1938, less than a decade after her first book had appeared, Pearl won the Nobel Prize in literature, the first American woman to do so. By the time of her death in 1973, Pearl had published more than seventy books: novels, collections of stories, biography and autobiography, poetry, drama, children's literature, and translations from the Chinese. She is buried at Green Hills Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
It was Wang Lung's marriage day. At first,
opening his eyes in the blackness of the
curtains about his bed, he could not think why
the dawn seemed different from any other. The
house was still except for the faint, gasping
cough of his old father, whose room was opposite
to his own across the middle room. Every morning
the old man's cough was the first sound to be
heard. Wang Lung usually lay listening to it and
moved only when he heard it approaching nearer
and when he heard the door of his father's room
squeak upon its wooden hinges.
But this morning he did not wait. He sprang
up and pushed aside the curtains of his bed. It
was a dark, ruddy dawn, and through a small
square hole of a window, where the tattered
paper fluttered, a glimpse of bronze sky
gleamed. He went to the hole and tore the paper
"It is spring and I do not need this," he
He was ashamed to say aloud that he wished
the house to look neat on this day. The hole was
barely large enough to admit his hand and he
thrust it out to feel of the air. A small soft
wind blew gently from the east, a wind mild and
murmurous and full of rain. It was a good omen.
The fields needed rain for fruition. There would
be no rain this day, but within a few days, if
this wind continued, there would be water. It
was good. Yesterday he had said to his father
that if this brazen, glittering sunshine
continued, the wheat could not fill in the ear.
Now it was as if Heaven had chosen this day to
wish him well. Earth would bear fruit.
He hurried out into the middle room, drawing
on his blue outer trousers as he went, and
knotting about the fullness at his waist his
girdle of blue cotton cloth. He left his upper
body bare until he had heated water to bathe
himself. He went into the shed which was the
kitchen, leaning against the house, and out of
its dusk an ox twisted its head from behind the
corner next the door and lowed at him deeply.
The kitchen was made of earthen bricks as the
house was, great squares of earth dug from their
own fields, and thatched with straw from their
own wheat. Out of their own earth had his
grandfather in his youth fashioned also the
oven, baked and black with many years of meal
preparing. On top of this earthen structure
stood a deep, round, iron cauldron.
This cauldron he filled partly full of water,
dipping it with a half gourd from an earthen jar
that stood near, but he dipped cautiously, for
water was precious. Then, after a hesitation, he
suddenly lifted the jar and emptied all the
water into the cauldron. This day he would bathe
his whole body. Not since he was a child upon
his mother's knee had anyone looked upon his
body. Today one would, and he would have it
He went around the oven to the rear, and
selecting a handful of the dry grass and stalks
standing in the corner of the kitchen, he
arranged it delicately in the mouth of the oven,
making the most of every leaf. Then from an old
flint and iron he caught a flame and thrust it
into the straw and there was a blaze.
This was the last morning he would have to
light the fire. He had lit it every morning
since his mother died six years before. He had
lit the fire, boiled water, and poured the water
into a bowl and taken it into the room where his
father sat upon his bed, coughing and fumbling
for his shoes upon the floor. Every morning for
these six years the old man had waited for his
son to bring in hot water to ease him of his
morning coughing. Now father and son could rest.
fi0There was a woman coming to the house. Never
again would Wang Lung have to rise summer and
winter at dawn to light the fire. He could lie
in his bed and wait, and he also would have a
bowl of water brought to him, and if the earth
were fruitful there would be tea leaves in the
water. Once in some years it was so.
And if the woman wearied, there would be her
children to light the fire, the many children
she would bear to Wang Lung. Wang Lung stopped,
struck by the thought of children running in and
out of their three rooms. Three rooms had always
seemed much to them, a house half empty since
his mother died. They were always having to
resist relatives who were more crowded - his
uncle, with his endless brood of children,
"Now, how can two lone men need so much room?
Cannot father and son sleep together? The warmth
of the young one's body will comfort the old
But the father always replied, "I am saving
my bed for my grandson. He will warm my bones in
Now the grandsons were coming, grandsons upon
grandsons! They would have to put beds along the
walls and in the middle room. The house would be
full of beds. The blaze in the oven died down
while Wang Lung thought of all the beds there
would be in the half empty house, and the water
began to chill in the cauldron. The shadowy
figure of the old man appeared in the doorway,
holding his unbuttoned garments about him. He
was coughing and spitting and he gasped.
"How is it that there is not water yet to
heat my lungs?"
Wang Lung stared and recalled himself and was
"This fuel is damp," he muttered from behind
"The damp wind - "
The old man continued to cough perseveringly
and would not cease until the water boiled. Wang
Lung dipped some into a bowl, and then, after a
moment, he opened a glazed jar that stood upon a
ledge of the stove and took from it a dozen or
so of the curled dried leaves and sprinkled them
upon the surface of the water. The old man's
eyes opened greedily and immediately he began to
"Why are you wasteful? Tea is like eating
"It is the day," replied Wang Lung with a
short laugh. "Eat and be comforted."
The old man grasped the bowl in his
shriveled, knotty fingers, muttering, uttering
little grunts. He watched the leaves uncurl and
spread upon the surface of the water, unable to
bear drinking the precious stuff.
"It will be cold," said Wang Lung.
"True - true - " said the old man in alarm,
and he began to take great gulps of the hot tea.
He passed into an animal satisfaction, like a
child fixed upon its feeding. But he was not too
forgetful to see Wang Lung dipping the water
recklessly from the cauldron into a deep wooden
tub. He lifted his head and stared at his son.
"Now there is water enough to bring a crop to
fruit," he said suddenly.
Wang Lung continued to dip the water to the
last drop. He did not answer.
"Now then!" cried his father loudly.
"I have not washed my body all at once since
the New Year," said Wang Lung in a low voice.
He was ashamed to say to his father that he
wished his body to be clean for a woman to see.
He hurried out, carrying the tub to his own
room. The door was hung loosely upon a warped
wooden frame and it did not shut closely, and
the old man tottered into the middle room and
put his mouth to the opening and bawled,
"It will be ill if we start the woman like
this - tea in the morning water and all this
"It is only one day," shouted Wang Lung. And
then he added, "I will throw the water on the
earth when I am finished and it is not all
The old man was silent at this, and Wang Lung
unfastened his girdle and stepped out of his
clothing. In the light that streamed in a square
block from the hole he wrung a small towel from
the steaming water and he scrubbed his dark
slender body vigorously. Warm though he had
thought the air, when his flesh was wet he was
cold, and he moved quickly, passing the towel in
and out of the water until from his whole body
there went up a delicate cloud of steam. Then he
went to a box that had been his mother's and
drew from it a fresh suit of blue cotton cloth.
He might be a little cold this day without the
wadding of the winter garments, but he suddenly
could not bear to put them on against his clean
flesh. The covering of them was torn and filthy
and the wadding stuck out of the holes, grey and
sodden. He did not want this woman to see him
for the first time with the wadding sticking out
of his clothes. Later she would have to wash and
mend, but not the first day. He drew over the
blue cotton coat and trousers a long robe made
of the same material - his one long robe, which
he wore on feast days only, ten days or so in
the year, all told. Then with swift fingers he
unplaited the long braid of hair that hung down
his back, and taking a wooden comb from the
drawer of the small, unsteady table, he began to
comb out his hair.
His father drew near again and put his mouth
to the crack of the door.
"Am I to have nothing to eat this day?" he
complained. "At my age the bones are water in
the morning until food is given them."
"I am coming," said Wang Lung, braiding his
hair quickly and smoothly and weaving into the
strands a tasseled, black silk cord.
Then after a moment he removed his long gown
and wound his braid about his head and went out,
carrying the tub of water. He had quite
forgotten the breakfast. He would stir a little
water into corn meal and give it to his father.
For himself he could not eat. He staggered with
the tub to the threshold and poured the water
upon the earth nearest the door, and as he did
so he remembered he had used all the water in
the cauldron for his bathing and he would have
to start the fire again. A wave of anger passed
over him at his father.
"That old head thinks of nothing except his
eating and his drinking," he muttered into the
mouth of the oven; but aloud he said nothing. It
was the last morning he would have to prepare
food for the old man. He put a very little water
into the cauldron, drawing it in a bucket from
the well near the door, and it boiled quickly
and he stirred meal together and took it to the
"We will have rice this night, my father," he
said. "Meanwhile, here is corn."
"There is only a little rice left in the
basket," said the old man, seating himself at
the table in the middle room and stirring with
his chopsticks the thick yellow gruel.
"We will eat a little less then at the spring
festival," said Wang Lung. But the old man did
not hear. He was supping loudly at his bowl.
Wang Lung went into his own room then, and
drew about him again the long blue robe and let
down the braid of his hair. He passed his hand
over his shaven brow and over his cheeks.
Perhaps he had better be newly shaven? It was
scarcely sunrise yet. He could pass through the
Street of the Barbers and be shaved before he
went to the house where the woman waited for
him. If he had the money he would do it.
He took from his girdle a small greasy pouch
of grey cloth and counted the money in it. There
were six silver dollars and a double handful of
copper coins. He had not yet told his father he
had asked friends to sup that night. He had
asked his male cousin, the young son of his
uncle, and his uncle for his father's sake, and
three neighboring farmers who lived in the
village with him. He had planned to bring back
from the town that morning pork, a small pond
fish, and a handful of chestnuts. He might even
buy a few of the bamboo sprouts from the south
and a little beef to stew with the cabbage he
had raised in his own garden. But this only if
there were any money left after the bean oil and
the soybean sauce had been bought. If he shaved
his head he could not, perhaps, buy the beef.
Well, he would shave his head, he decided
He left the old man without speech and went
out into the early morning. In spite of the dark
red dawn the sun was mounting the horizon clouds
and sparkled upon the dew on the rising wheat
and barley. The farmer in Wang Lung was diverted
for an instant and he stooped to examine the
budding heads. They were empty as yet and
waiting for the rain. He smelled the air and
looked anxiously at the sky. Rain was there,
dark in the clouds, heavy upon the wind. He
would buy a stick of incense and place it in the
little temple to the Earth God. On a day like
this he would do it.
He wound his way in among the fields upon the
narrow path. In the near distance the grey city
wall arose. Within that gate in the wall through
which he would pass stood the great house where
the woman had been a slave girl since her
childhood, the House of Hwang. There were those
who said, "It is better to live alone than to
marry a woman who has been slave in a great
house." But when he had said to his father, "Am
I never to have a woman?" his father replied,
"With weddings costing as they do in these evil
days and every woman wanting gold rings and silk
clothes before she will take a man, there remain
only slaves to be had for the poor."
His father had stirred himself, then, and
gone to the House of Hwang and asked if there
were a slave to spare.
"Not a slave too young, and above all, not a
pretty one," he had said.
Wang Lung had suffered that she must not be
pretty. It would be something to have a pretty
wife that other men would congratulate him upon
having. His father, seeing his mutinous face,
had cried out at him,
"And what will we do with a pretty woman? We
must have a woman who will tend the house and
bear children as she works in the fields, and
will a pretty woman do these things? She will be
forever thinking about clothes to go with her
face! No, not a pretty woman in our house. We
are farmers. Moreover, who has heard of a pretty
slave who was virgin in a wealthy house? All the
young lords have had their fill of her. It is
better to be first with an ugly woman than the
hundredth with a beauty. Do you imagine a pretty
woman will think your farmer's hands as pleasing
as the soft hands of a rich man's son, and your
sunblack face as beautiful as the golden skin of
the others who have had her for their pleasure?"
Wang Lung knew his father spoke well.
Nevertheless, he had to struggle with his flesh
before he could answer. And then he said
"At least, I will not have a woman who is
pock-marked, or who has a split upper lip."
"We will have to see what is to be had," his
Well, the woman was not pock-marked nor had
she a split upper lip. This much he knew, but
nothing more. He and his father had bought two
silver rings, washed with gold, and silver
earrings, and these his father had taken to the
woman's owner in acknowledgment of betrothal.
Beyond this, he knew nothing of the woman who
was to be his, except that on this day he could
go and get her.
He walked into the cool darkness of the city
gate. Water carriers, just outside, their
barrows laden with great tubs of water, passed
to and fro all day, the water splashing out of
the tubs upon the stones. It was always wet and
cool in the tunnel of the gate under the thick
wall of earth and brick; cool even upon a
f0summer's day, so that the melon vendors spread
their fruits upon the stones, melons split open
to drink in the moist coolness. There were none
yet, for the season was too early, but baskets
of small hard green peaches stood along the
walls, and the vendor cried out,
"The first peaches of spring - the first
peaches! Buy, eat, purge your bowels of the
poisons of winter!"
Wang Lung said to himself,
"If she likes them, I will buy her a handful
when we return." He could not realize that when
he walked back through the gate there would be a
woman walking behind him.
He turned to the right within the gate and
after a moment was in the Street of Barbers.
There were few before him so early, only some
farmers who had carried their produce into the
town the night before in order that they might
sell their vegetables at the dawn markets and
return for the day's work in the fields. They
had slept shivering and crouching over their
baskets, the baskets now empty at their feet.
Wang Lung avoided them lest some recognize him,
for he wanted none of their joking on this day.
All down the street in a long line the barbers
stood behind their small stalls, and Wang Lung
went to the furthest one and sat down upon the
stool and motioned to the barber who stood
chattering to his neighbor. The barber came at
once and began quickly to pour hot water, from a
kettle on his pot of charcoal, into his brass
"Shave everything?" he said in a professional
"My head and my face," replied Wang Lung.
"Ears and nostrils cleaned?" asked the
"How much will that cost extra?" asked Wang
"Four pence," said the barber, beginning to
pass a black cloth in and out of the hot water.
"I will give you two," said Wang Lung.
"Then I will clean one ear and one nostril,"
rejoined the barber promptly. "On which side of
the face do you wish it done?" He grimaced at
the next barber as he spoke and the other burst
into a guffaw. Wang Lung perceived that he had
fallen into the hands of a joker, and feeling
inferior in some unaccountable way, as he always
did, to these town dwellers, even though they
were only barbers and the lowest of persons, he
"As you will - as you will - "
Then he submitted himself to the barber's
soaping and rubbing and shaving, and being after
all a generous fellow enough, the barber gave
him without extra charge a series of skilful
poundings upon his shoulders and back to loosen
his muscles. He commented upon Wang Lung as he
shaved his upper forehead,
"This would not be a bad-looking farmer if he
would cut off his hair. The new fashion is to
take off the braid."
His razor hovered so near the circle of hair
upon Wang Lung's crown that Wang Lung cried out,
"I cannot cut it off without asking my
father!" And the barber laughed and skirted the
round spot of hair.
When it was finished and the money counted
into the barber's wrinkled, water-soaked hand,
Wang Lung had a moment of horror. So much money!
But walking down the street again with the wind
fresh upon his shaven skin, he said to himself,
"It is only once."
He went to the market, then, and bought two
pounds of pork and watched the butcher as he
wrapped it in a dried lotus leaf, and then,
hesitating, he bought also six ounces of beef.
When all had been bought, even to fresh squares
of beancurd, shivering in a jelly upon its leaf,
he went to a candlemaker's shop and there he
bought a pair of incense sticks. Then he turned
his steps with great shyness toward the House of
Once at the gate of the house he was seized
with terror. How had he come alone? He should
have asked his father - his uncle - even his
nearest neighbor, Ching - anyone to come with
him. He had never been in a great house before.
How could he go in with his wedding feast on his
arm, and say, "I have come for a woman?"
He stood at the gate for a long time, looking
at it. It was closed fast, two great wooden
gates, painted black and bound and studded with
iron, closed upon each other. Two lions made of
stone stood on guard, one at either side. There
was no one else. He turned away. It was
He felt suddenly faint. He would go first and
buy a little food. He had eaten nothing - had
forgotten food. He went into a small street
restaurant, and putting two pence upon the
table, he sat down. A dirty waiting boy with a
shiny black apron came near and he called out to
him, "Two bowls of noodles!" And when they came,
he ate them down greedily, pushing them into his
mouth with his bamboo chopsticks, while the boy
stood and spun the coppers between his black
thumb and forefinger.
"Will you have more?" asked the boy
Wang Lung shook his head. He sat up and
looked about. There was no one he knew in the
small, dark, crowded room full of tables. Only a
few men sat eating or drinking tea. It was a
place for poor men, and among them he looked
neat and clean and almost well-to-do, so that a
beggar, passing, whined at him,
"Have a good heart, teacher, and give me a
small cash - I starve!"
Wang Lung had never had a beggar ask of him
before, nor had any ever called him teacher. He
was pleased and he threw into the beggar's bowl
two small cash, which are one fifth of a penny,
and the beggar pulled back with swiftness his
black claw of a hand, and grasping the cash,
fumbled them within his rags.
Wang Lung sat and the sun climbed upwards.
The waiting boy lounged about impatiently. "If
you are buying nothing more," he said at last
i0with much impudence, "you will have to pay rent
for the stool."
Wang Lung was incensed at such impudence and
he would have risen except that when he thought
of going into the great House of Hwang and of
asking there for a woman, sweat broke out over
his whole body as though he were working in a
"Bring me tea," he said weakly to the boy.
Before he could turn it was there and the small
boy demanded sharply,
"Where is the penny?"
And Wang Lung, to his horror, found there was
nothing to do but to produce from his girdle yet
"It is robbery," he muttered, unwilling. Then
he saw entering the shop his neighbor whom he
had invited to the feast, and he put the penny
hastily upon the table and drank the tea at a
gulp and went out quickly by the side door and
was once more upon the street.
"It is to be done," he said to himself
desperately, and slowly he turned his way to the
This time, since it was after high noon, the
gates were ajar and the keeper of the gate idled
upon the threshold, picking his teeth with a
bamboo sliver after his meal. He was a tall
fellow with a large mole upon his left cheek,
and from the mole hung three long black hairs
which had never been cut. When Wang Lung
appeared he shouted roughly, thinking from the
basket that he had come to sell something.
"Now then, what?"
With great difficulty Wang Lung replied,
"I am Wang Lung, the farmer."
"Well, and Wang Lung, the farmer, what?"
retorted the gateman, who was polite to none
except the rich friends of his master and
"I am come - I am come - " faltered Wang
"That I see," said the gateman with elaborate
patience, twisting the long hairs of his mole.
"There is a woman," said Wang Lung, his voice
cf0sinking helplessly to a whisper. In the sunshine
his face was wet.
The gateman gave a great laugh.
"So you are he!" he roared. "I was told to
expect a bridegroom today. But I did not
recognize you with a basket on your arm."
"It is only a few meats," said Wang Lung
apologetically, waiting for the gateman to lead
him within. But the gateman did not move. At
last Wang Lung said with anxiety,
"Shall I go alone?"
The gateman affected a start of horror. "The
Old Lord would kill you!"
Then seeing that Wang Lung was too innocent
he said, "A little silver is a good key."
Wang Lung saw at last that the man wanted
money of him.
"I am a poor man," he said pleadingly.
"Let me see what you have in your girdle,"
said the gateman.
And he grinned when Wang Lung in his
simplicity actually put his basket upon the
stones and lifting his robe took out the small
bag from his girdle and shook into his left hand
what money was left after his purchases. There
was one silver piece and fourteen copper pence.
"I will take the silver," said the gateman
coolly, and before Wang Lung could protest the
man had the silver in his sleeve and was
striding through the gate, bawling loudly,
"The bridegroom, the bridegroom!"
Wang Lung, in spite of anger at what had just
happened and horror at this loud announcing of
his coming, could do nothing but follow, and
this he did, picking up his basket and looking
neither to the right nor left.
Afterwards, although it was the first time he
had ever been in a great family's house, he
could remember nothing. With his face burning
and his head bowed, he walked through court
after court, hearing that voice roaring ahead of
him, hearing tinkles of laughter on every side.
Then suddenly when it seemed to him he had gone
through a hundred courts, the gateman fell
silent and pushed him into a small waiting room.
There he stood alone while the gateman went into
some inner place, returning in a moment to say,
"The Old Mistress says you are to appear
Wang Lung started forward, but the gateman
stopped him, crying in disgust,
"You cannot appear before a great lady with a
basket on your arm - a basket of pork and
beancurd! How will you bow?"
"True - true - " said Wang Lung in
agitation. But he did not dare to put the basket
down because he was afraid something might be
stolen from it. It did not occur to him that all
the world might not desire such delicacies as
two pounds of pork and six ounces of beef and a
small pond fish. The gateman saw his fear and
cried out in great contempt,
"In a house like this we feed these meats to
the dogs!" and seizing the basket he thrust it
behind the door and pushed Wang Lung ahead of
Down a long narrow veranda they went, the
roofs supported by delicate carven posts, and
into a hall the like of which Wang Lung had
never seen. A score of houses such as his whole
house could have been put into it and have
disappeared, so wide were the spaces, so high
the roofs. Lifting his head in wonder to see the
great carven and painted beams above him he
stumbled upon the high threshold of the door and
would have fallen except that the gateman caught
his arm and cried out,
"Now will you be so polite as to fall on your
face like this before the Old Mistress?"
And collecting himself in great shame Wang
Lung looked ahead of him, and upon a dais in the
center of the room he saw a very old lady, her
small fine body clothed in lustrous, pearly grey
satin, and upon the low bench beside her a pipe
of opium stood, burning over its little lamp.
She looked at him out of small, sharp, black
eyes, as sunken and sharp as a monkey's eyes in
her thin and wrinkled face. The skin of her hand
that held the pipe's end was stretched over her
little bones as smooth and as yellow as the gilt
upon an idol. Wang Lung fell to his knees and
knocked his head on the tiled floor.
"Raise him," said the old lady gravely to the
gateman, "these obeisances are not necessary.
Has he come for the woman?"
"Yes, Ancient One," replied the gateman.
"Why does he not speak for himself?" asked
the old lady.
"Because he is a fool, Ancient One," said the
gateman, twirling the hairs of his mole.
This roused Wang Lung and he looked with
indignation at the gateman.
"I am only a coarse person, Great and Ancient
Lady," he said. "I do not know what words to use
in such a presence."
The old lady looked at him carefully and with
perfect gravity and made as though she would
have spoken, except that her hand closed upon
the pipe which a slave had been tending for her
and at once she seemed to forget him. She bent
and sucked greedily at the pipe for a moment and
the sharpness passed from her eyes and a film of
forgetfulness came over them. Wang Lung remained
standing before her until in passing her eyes
caught his figure.
"What is this man doing here?" she asked with
sudden anger. It was as though she had forgotten
everything. The gateman's face was immovable. He
"I am waiting for the woman, Great Lady,"
said Wang Lung in much astonishment.
"The woman? What woman?..." the old lady
began, but the slave girl at her side stooped
and whispered and the lady recovered herself.
"Ah, yes, I forgot for the moment - a small
affair - you have come for the slave called
O-lan. I remember we promised her to some farmer
in marriage. You are that farmer?"
"I am he," replied Wang Lung.
"Call O-lan quickly," said the old lady to
her slave. It was as though she was suddenly
impatient to be done with all this and to be
left alone in the stillness of the great room
with her opium pipe.
And in an instant the slave appeared leading
by the hand a square, rather tall figure,
clothed in clean blue cotton coat and trousers.
Wang Lung glanced once and then away, his heart
beating. This was his woman.
"Come here, slave," said the old lady
carelessly. "This man has come for you."
The woman went before the lady and stood with
bowed head and hands clasped.
"Are you ready?" asked the lady.
The woman answered slowly as an echo,
Wang Lung, hearing her voice for the first
time, looked at her back as she stood before
him. It was a good enough voice, not loud, not
soft, plain, and not ill-tempered. The woman's
hair was neat and smooth and her coat clean. He
saw with an instant's disappointment that her
feet were not bound. But this he could not dwell
upon, for the old lady was saying to the
"Carry her box out to the gate and let them
begone." And then she called Wang Lung and said,
"Stand beside her while I speak." And when Wang
had come forward she said to him, "This woman
came into our house when she was a child of ten
and here she has lived until now, when she is
twenty years old. I bought her in a year of
famine when her parents came south because they
had nothing to eat. They were from the north in
Shantung and there they returned, and I know
nothing further of them. You see she has the
strong body and the square cheeks of her kind.
She will work well for you in the field and
drawing water and all else that you wish. She is
not beautiful but that you do not need. Only men
of leisure have the need for beautiful women to
divert them. Neither is she clever. But she does
well what she is told to do and she has a good
temper. So far as I know she is virgin. She has
not beauty enough to tempt my sons and grandsons
0even if she had not been in the kitchen. If
there has been anything it has been only a
serving man. But with the innumerable and pretty
slaves running freely about the courts, I doubt
if there has been anyone. Take her and use her
well. She is a good slave, although somewhat
slow and stupid, and had I not wished to acquire
merit at the temple for my future existence by
bringing more life into the world I should have
kept her, for she is good enough for the
kitchen. But I marry my slaves off if any will
have them and the lords do not want them."
And to the woman she said,
"Obey him and bear him sons and yet more
sons. Bring the first child to me to see."
"Yes, Ancient Mistress," said the woman
They stood hesitating, and Wang Lung was
greatly embarrassed, not knowing whether he
should speak or what.
"Well, go, will you!" said the old lady in
irritation, and Wang Lung, bowing hastily,
turned and went out, the woman after him, and
after her the gateman, carrying on his shoulder
the box. This box he dropped down in the room
where Wang Lung returned to find his basket and
would carry it no further, and indeed he
disappeared without another word.
Then Wang Lung turned to the woman and looked
at her for the first time. She had a square,
honest face, a short, broad nose with large
black nostrils, and her mouth was wide as a gash
in her face. Her eyes were small and of a dull
black in color, and were filled with some
sadness that was not clearly expressed. It was a
face that seemed habitually silent and
unspeaking, as though it could not speak if it
would. She bore patiently Wang Lung's look,
without embarrassment or response, simply
waiting until he had seen her. He saw that it
was true there was not beauty of any kind in her
face - a brown, common, patient face. But there
were no pock-marks on her dark skin, nor was her
20lip split. In her ears he saw his rings hanging,
the gold-washed rings he had bought, and on her
hands were the rings he had given her. He turned
away with secret exultation. Well, he had his
"Here is this box and this basket," he said
Without a word she bent over and picking up
one end of the box she placed it upon her
shoulder and, staggering under its weight, tried
to rise. He watched her at this and suddenly he
"I will take the box. Here is the basket."
And he shifted the box to his own back,
regardless of the best robe he wore, and she,
still speechless, took the handle of the basket.
He thought of the hundred courts he had come
through and of his figure, absurd under its
"If there were a side gate - " he muttered,
and she nodded after a little thought, as though
she did not understand too quickly what he said.
Then she led the way through a small unused
court that was grown up with weed, its pool
choked, and there under a bent pine tree was an
old round gate that she pulled loose from its
bar, and they went through and into the street.
Once or twice he looked back at her. She
plodded along steadily on her big feet as though
she had walked there all her life, her wide face
expressionless. In the gate of the wall he
stopped uncertainly and fumbled in his girdle
with one hand for the pennies he had left,
holding the box steady on his shoulder with the
other hand. He took out two pence and with these
he bought six small green peaches.
"Take these and eat them for yourself," he
She clutched them greedily as a child might
and held them in her hand without speech. When
next he looked at her as they walked along the
margin of the wheat fields she was nibbling one
cautiously, but when she saw him looking at her
she covered it again with her hand and kept her
And thus they went until they reached the
western field where stood the temple to the
earth. This temple was a small structure, not
higher in all than a man's shoulder and made of
grey bricks and roofed with tile. Wang Lung's
grandfather, who had farmed the very fields upon
which Wang Lung now spent his life, had built
it, hauling the bricks from the town upon his
wheelbarrow. The walls were covered with plaster
on the outside and a village artist had been
hired in a good year once to paint upon the
white plaster a scene of hills and bamboo. But
the rain of generations had poured upon this
painting until now there was only a faint
feathery shadow of bamboos left, and the hills
were almost wholly gone.
Within the temple snugly under the roof sat
two small, solemn figures, earthen, for they
were formed from the earth of the fields about
the temple. These were the god himself and his
lady. They wore robes of red and gilt paper, and
the god had a scant, drooping moustache of real
hair. Each year at the New Year Wang Lung's
father bought sheets of red paper and carefully
cut and pasted new robes for the pair. And each
year rain and snow beat in and the sun of summer
shone in and spoiled their robes.
At this moment, however, the robes were still
new, since the year was but well begun, and Wang
Lung was proud of their spruce appearance. He
took the basket from the woman's arm and
carefully he looked about under the pork for the
sticks of incense he had bought. He was anxious
lest they were broken and thus make an evil
omen, but they were whole, and when he had found
them he stuck them side by side in the ashes of
other sticks of incense that were heaped before
the gods, for the whole neighborhood worshipped
these two small figures. Then fumbling for his
flint and iron he caught, with a dried leaf for
tinder, a flame to light the incense.
Together this man and this woman stood before
the gods of their fields. The woman watched the
ends of the incense redden and turn grey. When
the ash grew heavy she leaned over and with her
forefinger she pushed the head of ash away. Then
as though fearful for what she had done, she
looked quickly at Wang Lung, her eyes dumb. But
there was something he liked in her movement. It
was as though she felt that the incense belonged
to them both; it was a moment of marriage. They
stood there in complete silence, side by side,
while the incense smouldered into ashes; and
then because the sun was sinking, Wang Lung
shouldered the box and they went home.
At the door of the house the old man stood to
catch the last rays of the sun upon him. He made
no movement as Wang Lung approached with the
woman. It would have been beneath him to notice
her. Instead he feigned great interest in the
clouds and he cried,
"That cloud which hangs upon the left horn of
the new moon speaks of rain. It will come not
later than tomorrow night." And then as he saw
Wang Lung take the basket from the woman he
cried again, "And have you spent money?"
Wang Lung set the basket on the table. "There
will be guests tonight," he said briefly, and he
carried the box into the room where he slept and
set it down beside the box where his own clothes
were. He looked at it strangely. But the old man
came to the door and said volubly,
"There is no end to the money spent in this
Secretly he was pleased that his son had
invited guests, but he felt it would not do to
give out anything but complaints before his new
daughter-in-law lest she be set from the first
in ways of extravagance. Wang Lung said nothing,
but he went out and took the basket into the
kitchen and the woman followed him there. He
took the food piece by piece from the basket and
laid it upon the ledge of the cold stove and he
said to her,
"Here is pork and here beef and fish. There
are seven to eat. Can you prepare food?"
He did not look at the woman as he spoke. It
would not have been seemly. The woman answered
in her plain voice,
"I have been kitchen slave since I went into
the House of Hwang. There were meats at every
Wang Lung nodded and left her and did not see
her again until the guests came crowding in, his
uncle jovial and sly and hungry, his uncle's son
an impudent lad of fifteen, and the farmers
clumsy and grinning with shyness. Two were men
from the village with whom Wang Lung exchanged
seed and labor at harvest time, and one was his
next door neighbor, Ching, a small, quiet man,
ever unwilling to speak unless he were compelled
to it. After they had been seated about the
middle room with demurring and unwillingness to
take seats, for politeness, Wang Lung went into
the kitchen to bid the woman serve. Then he was
pleased when she said to him,
"I will hand you the bowls if you will place
them upon the table. I do not like to come out
Wang Lung felt in him a great pride that this
woman was his and did not fear to appear before
him, but would not before other men. He took the
bowls from her hands at the kitchen door and he
set them upon the table in the middle room and
"Eat, my uncle and my brothers." And when the
uncle, who was fond of jokes, said, "Are we not
to see the moth-browed bride?" Wang Lung replied
firmly, "We are not yet one. It is not meet that
other men see her until the marriage is
And he urged them to eat and they ate
heartily of the good fare, heartily and in
silence, and this one praised the brown sauce on
the fish and that one the well-done pork, and
Wang Lung said over and over in reply,
"It is poor stuff - it is badly prepared."
But in his heart he was proud of the dishes,
0for with what meats she had the woman had
combined sugar and vinegar and a little wine and
soy sauce and she had skilfully brought forth
all the force of the meat itself, so that Wang
Lung himself had never tasted such dishes upon
the tables of his friends.
That night after the guests had tarried long
over their tea and had done with their jokes,
the woman still lingered behind the stove, and
when Wang Lung had seen the last guest away he
went in and she cowered there in the straw piles
asleep beside the ox. There was straw in her
hair when he roused her, and when he called her
she put up her arm suddenly in her sleep as
though to defend herself from a blow. When she
opened her eyes at last, she looked at him with
her strange speechless gaze, and he felt as
though he faced a child. He took her by the hand
and led her into the room where that morning he
had bathed himself for her, and he lit a red
candle upon the table. In this light he was
suddenly shy when he found himself alone with
the woman and he was compelled to remind
"There is this woman of mine. The thing is to
And he began to undress himself doggedly. As
for the woman, she crept around the corner of
the curtain and began without a sound to prepare
for the bed. Wang Lung said gruffly,
"When you lie down, put the light out first."
Then he lay down and drew the thick quilt
about his shoulders and pretended to sleep. But
he was not sleeping. He lay quivering, every
nerve of his flesh awake. And when, after a long
time, the room went dark, and there was the
slow, silent, creeping movement of the woman
beside him, an exultation filled him fit to
break his body. He gave a hoarse laugh into the
darkness and seized her.
Copyright 1931 by Pearl S.
Copyright renewed © 1958 by Pearl S.