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The Politics of China During The Good Earth
The Good Earth is about a farmer, his land, and the trials he goes through that test his love for the land. But the novel also contains a look at the political affairs in China during its setting, the last years of Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic (late 1800’s to the early 1900’s).
From the political view, the novel’s main focus in on the unrest between the rich and poor. Wang Lung, the farmer whom the novel is centered on, is a good example of this "unrest." He is a poor farmer whose desire to acquire land begins when he is laughed at by the gate keeper of the Great House. When O-lan, his wife, tells him that the Great House is selling land, he immediately decides to buy it. By buying the land, Wang Lung feels he has raised himself a little higher on the social ladder. "[T]his parcel of land became to Wang Lung a sign and a symbol" (Buck 56).
Opium was also a significant division of classes. Those who could afford it used it as a way to satisfy their boredom. Men with basically meaningless jobs and women of wealth, who were not allowed an education and forbidden to leave the confines of the homes, became addicted when they started to use it as a way to pass time (Spence 131). The Old Lady of the Great House was smoking opium the day Wang Lung came to pick up his bride to be. Another reference is made to its use when Wang Lung and his oldest son are trying to decide what to do with the Uncle and his wife. Wang Lung’s son says, "Let us buy them opium to enjoy, and more opium, and let them have their will of it as rich people do" (Buck 280). They have become burdensome and do nothing all day except spend Wang Lung’s money and eat Wang Lung’s food. Wang Lung would not have been able to afford to feed two opium addictions if he was still a poor farmer. So by being able to purchase a constant supply of opium, Wang Lung is demonstrating the division of rich and poor.
Another division of the wealthy and poor is the ability to receive an education. "Young Chinese men from well-to-do families" were sent to schools to learn the ways of Confucius and Western civilizations (Spence 224). Families from poorer classes could not afford to send their sons to school for financial reasons as well as the loss it would create in their labor (one less able body to help bring in the crops). After returning from the city and purchasing more land from the Great House, Wang Lung felt he should send his sons to school. He could now afford to pay the teacher. He was also ashamed that he could not read or write, but he would have a son who could (Buck 164).
Buck touches briefly on the rebellion of the Chinese against the Qing Dynasty in the early 1900’s. In the novel, Wang Lung meets a man in a neighboring hut while living in the city. Wang Lung is distraught because he is afraid he may never return to his land again. The man tells him he is not alone and that this feeling and the drought that prevents him from returning to his land will not last forever: "When the rich are too rich there are ways, and when the poor are too poor there are ways" (Buck 119). The man goes on to say: "When the rich are too rich there is a way, and if I am not mistaken, that will come soon." He nodded and pointed with the stem of his pipe to the wall behind them. "Have you seen the inside of that wall?" (119-120). In having this man say this, Buck is foreshadowing a rebellion, a revolt against the "rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer" ways of the "old" China. In the early 1900’s, the reformists in China, who secretly developed underground societies, gathered enough support and rebelled, forever changing China (Spence 267-271). It is also after the rebellion in the novel (the storming of the wall and house in the city) that Wang Lung is able to make his fortune, beginning his rise to wealth.
The division of the two classes, the wealthy and the poor, is great. While being rich allows for more opportunities, Wang Lung learned his love of the land as a poor man. So while his sons may think being rich is the only way to be, they forget the one thing that allows them to live as they do—the land. And it is the land that decides their fate.
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If you want to cut this down to one paragraph, simply choose one topic to concentrate on......... or use one idea from each paragraph and cover all the bases. That's completely up to you. The 5th paragraph probably contains the best details to work on the initial question. Good Luck!