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Chapter 19

If the waters had receded at this time or something had occurred to occupy his thoughts back home, Wang might have forgotten about the tea house, but he continues to be tormented with his restlessness. One evening, he puts on his best coat and makes his way to the tea shop, which he finds bustling with activity and enjoyment. Though he is initially filled with trepidation, Cuckoo sees him and insults Wang, who then tries to prove his worth by demanding to be treated equally to the other men with silver. He tells Cuckoo his choice among the women and follows Cuckoo upstairs. This is the first time Wang has climbed stairs, and he manages with difficulty. At the top, he is led down a hall where the girls stay, and even though one of the girls comments on his appearance as a lowly farmer, he walks away, thinking of the silver in his girdle which ensures that he is not. Cuckoo knocks sharply on a door and opens it for Wang, who enters to see his dream woman, Lotus, sitting prettily on the bed.
Wang is stupefied by Lotus' beauty: her delicate hands, her tiny feet, her milky skin, her apricot eyes. When she passes her hand down his shoulder, Wang trembles in a mix of delight, confusion, and apprehension. Lotus laughs and calls him ignorant, and with that, Wang takes her hand and implores her to teach him, so Lotus complies.
Wang, who has suffered under the bitter winds and toiled under the burning sun, does not know suffering compared to how he feels now with Lotus. He is desperate for her, and he returns and he learns from her. But Wang is still not wholly satisfied, and he fevered over this dissatisfaction. It is like a dying man who drinks salt water, which only serves to make him thirstier and wanting more. Wang never has enough of Lotus and cannot stop thinking of her.
Her grip over him affects his entire life. When Ching inquires about next year's crops, Wang demands to be left alone. Even Wang's old father notices the change and asks what could be the cause of Wang's "sickness." What had been Wang's treasured ponytail is quickly snipped off when Lotus comments that dignified men from the south do not have those "monkey tails." Wang takes to washing himself daily, using store-bought soap, buying tailor-made clothing and shoes, and abstaining from garlic, all to please Lotus.
Wang, however, is ashamed to wear his new clothes in front of his family and arranges with a clerk at the tea shop to change his attire there. To complete his ensemble, Wang has even taken to wearing a ring on his finger and smoothing oil in his hair. O-lan comments that Wang now resembles one of the lords from the House of Hwang, a comparison that delights Wang.
The money continues to pour from Wang's hand, not only to make his own appearance more fanciful but also to satisfy the whims and desires of Lotus. O-lan sees the silver disappear, but she can only watch since she does not wish to anger Wang. She has been timid since the day Wang yelled at her for having no beauty, and so she can only look miserably at the savings dwindle.
One day, Wang demands O-lan to hand over the two pearls that she had kept. O-lan replies that she wishes to keep them for their daughter, but Wang laughs scornfully, saying that pearls are only for fair women, not for those with skin darkened by the sun. He forces her to give them to him, and walks away happily, not noticing the tears that fall from O-lan's face.

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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