The family is abuzz about the rest of the Tianjin family coming to join them in Shanghai, especially since it’s been six months since they’ve all been together. Ye Ye, Aunty Baba, Third Brother and Little Sister arrive at the house just fine, and Little Sister starts to explore. While the siblings all vie for her attention, she never strays far from Aunt Baba, even when Niang tempts her with candy. When separated from Aunt Baba by Niang, Little Sister starts to scream and struggle. After breaking Niang’s pearls, Niang loses her temper, and sets about “beating her daughter in earnest” (34). While all the others look on silently, Adeline cannot restrain her cry, “Don’t hurt her anymore. She is only a baby!” (35) Niang does not appreciate the outburst and declares that she “shall never forgive” (35) Adeline.
As the months stretch on, the divide between Niang’s children and stepchildren widens as the older siblings are placed on a strict “austerity program” (36) and given no allowance at all. The boys are forced to sport a “Buddhist monk special” (36) haircut and are mocked by their classmates for their bald crowns. To help the children get to school, Aunt Baba and Ye Ye have been giving them enough for tram fare, but their funds have been depleted. Aunt Baba mentions she might go back to work, but Father is uncomfortable with this idea of Aunt Baba working “like a commoner” (39). If Ye Ye and Aunt Baba need an allowance, they just need to ask Niang, Adeline wonders why Ye Ye is “suddenly and mysteriously dependent on Father and Niang for pocket money” (38). When the issue of tram fare comes up, Niang is outraged that the children have gone behind her back and forbids them from troubling Aunt Baba or Ye Ye again. Soon, Adeline realizes that there is “a new family hierarchy within [the] family” (40) with Niang at the very top. Though they agree to stay loyal to Ye Ye and walk instead of buckling under Niang, one by one they slowly give in. Adeline remains resolute, walking to school in the rain and cold, though she feels isolated when her siblings are invited into the “Holy of Holies” to collect their allowances each week.
The whole house is abuzz with excitement for the New Year and the new beginnings it should bring. Traditionally, the Chinese New Year is a significant holiday full of specific rituals and all around celebration. The children are invited into the “Holy of Holies” for New Year’s clothes. The brothers are given identical, loose fitting Chinese smocks while the sisters are given plain qipaos. They’re outraged by the “blatant inequality” (43) between them and Niang’s children, who received stylish western outfits for the New Years, and start to talk about how unfair life is. The youngest siblings have the most modern clothes, trendiest hairstyles, and unlimited access to the kitchen. They are allowed to buy anything they desire. The older siblings also complain about Niang’s spies, particularly Miss Chien, the younger children’s tutor. Eventually, the children attempt to get organized and revolt against Niang, by sending a letter to Father about how unequal their treatment is. Niang catches wind of this plot, and though she does nothing initially, she invites Big Sister to the second floor and converts her into a spy. The siblings cannot remain organized without the help of Big Sister and their attempts to change the situation cease.
Adeline turns to school to keep her sane and also attempts to cheer Aunty Baba by getting good grades. Adeline’s schoolmates nickname her “Genius” for her incredible dedication and intelligence. Soon, Adeline discovers writing as a means of escape from the cruelty of everyday life with Niang.
At school Adeline come to admire one of her classmates, a fiery athlete by the name of Wu Chun-mei. They strike up a fast friendship as Chun-mei lends Adeline books and in turn Adeline helps tutor her in arithmetic. Since they go home in the same direction, Chun-Mei constantly offers to take Adeline in her chauffeured car, but Adeline always refuses. Until one day, a typhoon ravages Shanghai with fierce winds and Adeline is almost swept away. She reluctantly takes a ride with Chun-mei and though Adeline never accepts a ride from her again, Chun-mei walks alongside her friend when their paths cross.
The end of World War Two starts a craze for everything American as soldiers settle into Shanghai. At this time, Chun-mei lends Adeline The Little Princess, a book about a young girl escaping poverty through hard work. This idea resonates with Adeline and she is given hope for the future. Because the war has ended, Father leaves Shanghai with Niang, Big Sister, Fourth Brother and Little Sister to reclaim his Tianjin properties, leaving the rest of the household relaxed and free. The brothers start to act like normal boys and Adeline even becomes close to Third Brother. One of Adeline’s compositions wins an award in the Shanghai Newspaper Association and to congratulate her, the brothers mix her a glass or orange juice. Though she is suspicious at first, Third Brother reassures her that it’s safe. When she goes to drink from it, she is hit by a “wall of urine” (69), which the boys had mixed in with the concentrate. Though the betrayal doesn’t shock her, she is saddened by the way that “straddling the fence” (69) is chipping away at Third Brother’s integrity. Later that week, the mischievous Chun-mei fools Adeline again: she convinces her school friends to bite into unripe persimmons.
The conflict between Niang and Adeline is brought to a head with the latter's anger at the beating of Little Sister. This conflict will be one of the driving forces behind the rest of the novel, as evidenced by the subsequent clashes in the case of walking to school and the respect of Aunt Baba and Ye Ye. Adeline's isolation is further exemplified by her wandering around Shanghai, with her family's forgetfulness serving as a metaphor for her worthlessness to them.
For the rest of the novel, Niang uses Adeline as an outlet and a scapegoat, punishing the young girl as a way to express her frustrations and insecurities. Adeline's innocent words should not have elicited such a strong reaction from Niang, especially since Niang was in the wrong. Because Adeline exposed that Niang was not infallible in a moment of weakness, Adeline sentenced herself to a lifetime of agony.
This passage and the next establish the new family structure of the Yen household. With Nai Nai's death, Niang is new matriarch of the family and it appears as if her power is unchecked by any of the other adults, including Father. Ye Ye is no longer in the respected position that he once was, but is reduced to asking for an allowance instead of having his own funds. In the classical Chinese family structure, this is unheard of. Elders are always highly respected and sought out for advice often. Reducing Ye Ye to a mere member of the household goes against all cultural norms.
The attempt to overthrow Niang highlights the relationships between the siblings. They are united by their common complaints and the inequality that marks the household, but this is a fickle bond. Big Sister's manipulative nature comes to light once again, as she is the first to address Adeline in their attempted revolt. Though Adeline was "thrilled that Big Sister... [addressed her] personally" (45), it shows how Big Sister only acts to advance her own situation. She knows that the siblings must present themselves as a unified front to advance their cause, and must bring Adeline on board, yet the chapter before she mocked Adeline by counting the tram fare allowance on Adeline's bed.
Adeline's "Shanghai School Days" serve as a sharp relief to her home life and the everyday slights that she must suffer through. School provides Adeline with a level playing field, a place where her companions don't see her as a mother-murdering waste of space. Not only is she well-liked, but Adeline is also highly respected and seen as an equal. Through school and education, Adeline proves to herself that she should continue to live and has the potential to have a great life, even if her family is constantly bringing her down.