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Chapter 18

Wang and his family continue to be so prosperous that even in the seventh year, when there are heavy rains that cause almost half of Wang's land to be flooded, they are not worried. Wang's house, being built on a hill, stays above the waters, even though their neighbors' homes are washed away by the large quantities of water.
Because the fields cannot be planted, Wang tries to busy himself by tending to other affairs, like ordering his laborers to fix the roof and mend the farm equipment. However, his hands remain idle, and he grows impatient with his free time. Wang's possible choices for companionship are unsatisfying: his father has receded into his own mind in his old age, his poor fool of a daughter only offers an empty smile, his youngest children have taken to playing around the house, and O-lan has grown unappealing in his eyes. In fact, Wang is so dissatisfied that he scolds her for looking like the wife of a common fellow and not of a man as successful as Wang. Although he feels ashamed for berating O-lan after all her faithfulness, he continues to scorn her looks, her unbound feet, and her clothes. Frustrated, Wang hastily makes his way to the tea shop to escape his home and family.
As he walks to town, he is angry when he realizes that his wealth would not have been possible without O-lan and the jewels, yet he justifies it by saying that O-lan did not even know the true value of the jewels. He might have been satisfied with O-lan if he were still a poor man, but now he is rich and she has become ugly to him.
At the tea shop, Wang looks around with disdain, feeling the locale is beneath him. The other customers were common men, none as rich as he, and they all whispered in deference at the rich Wang's presence. Wang, though pleased with their remarks, is unsatisfied at the tea shop (and still gloomy from having reproached his wife), so he leaves. He wanders to the storyteller's booth for entertainment but remains restless.
His attentions are then piqued by the new tea shop in town. Although Wang had previously avoided the location, horrified that money was spent there by gamblers and for women, but on this day, he is compelled to enter and see something new. Wang sits timidly at first, not speaking to anyone and just drinking his tea. He stares at paintings of women on the walls, and Wang thinks they are dream women, since he has never seen anyone rivaling their beauty.
Day after day, Wang returns to the shop to drink tea and look at the pictures of women. He is wary of engaging in any other activities, since he is still a "country-looking fellow" with hair and clothes inferior to those of the other men. He can hear the laughter of women upstairs, but Wang remains downstairs, accompanied by his tea.
One evening, Wang is surprised to find Cuckoo, the woman from the Old Lord's house, who is quick to lead Wang to the other pleasures of the tea shop: wine and women. Wang blushes with modesty, but Cuckoo laughs and instructs him to choose one the women from the wall. Wang is astonished that such women exist outside of dreams, and Cuckoo, impatient with Wang's disbelief, continues her insistence, saying that a little bit of silver will turn any one of the women into reality. Wang carefully studies each of the portraits, all of which before that moment had seemed equally beautiful to him until he is faced with the opportunity to have one. He finally picks a small woman who is clasping a lotus flower, but he suddenly becomes ashamed. He hastily leaves the tea house and heads home, though his blood runs warm and fast in excitement.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2 and 3
Chapter 4 and 5
Chapter 6 and 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34


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