The family begins their journey south, taking nothing but their bowls, chopsticks and the clothes on their back. Wang Lung carries his father and children part of the way. As they walk through the village they hear the townspeople discuss attacking the rich, like the House of Hwang, who horde their food while the rest of the people starve.
When they pass through the town they run into a great multitude heading south on firewagons. The ever-conservative Wang Lung resists using the wagons, which he has never known of before, but O-lan convinces him to relent. They thus pile into the firewagon.
Once on the firewagon, Wang Lung buys some bread and rice for the family with his meager funds. They have starved for so long that they have to be coaxed to eat. Wang Lung overhears talk of the south in the wagon; he learns that he needs to buy mats to make a refuge and that they should be prepared to beg. Wang Lung would rather work, as he considers begging to be beneath him.
Upon their arrival in the south, the family is disoriented; the southern accent is difficult to understand and the locals either ignore or threaten them. Nevertheless, they finally find the refugee area and O-lan, who has lived in such conditions before, builds them a shelter from mats. They then go to the public kitchens, full of starving people. The family eats; the food has been donated by the rich and none of it can leave the kitchen, for some people have taken rice to feed their animals.
O-lan, who has begged during her childhood, instructs the children on what to say to get money. The children find begging fun until O-lan beats them; when they are chastened she declares them fit to beg.
Meanwhile, Wang Lung works as a rickshaw driver. The work is hard and the pay is very low -- he ends the day with only one penny more than the cost of renting the rickshaw. He comforts himself with thoughts of his land.
When he arrives "home" he sees that the family has made enough money begging to feed themselves for another day. The younger boy will not part with his money; he wants to sleep with it and only lets it go in exchange for food. The old man has not begged. He has done his share of work in this lifetime, and now, as tradition dictates, his children and grandchildren will take care of him.
This chapter shows the extent of the hardship suffered by Wang Lung and his family and charts the growing discontent with the rich in China. We've already had a foretaste of power in numbers with the raid on Wang Lung's house; the mob continues to be a powerful force, insisting on food and getting it.
As Wang Lung and his family flees their village, Wang carries his father on his back. This image captures multiple meanings. On the one hand, it illustrates how Wang Lung must actually "carry" his family if it is going to survive. He and O-lan are their family's crutch, and if they fail, then the line will simply end. This image has a second, allegorical significance as well. In Virgil's epic, The Aeneid, Aeneus flees from Troy while it burns with his father on his back. Again, the image captures the way in which each succeeding generation must care for ancestry -- whether in the literal form of a father, or in symbolic terms of gods and traditions. Pearl Buck's willingness to deploy a very Western allusion from the foundational text of Rome in her tale of China displays her own ambidextrous approach to literature. She is a Western woman writing of the East, and she draws freely from both traditions.
Wang Lung, who has always been comfortable (if poor), finds himself cast into the south, a massively different region of China. He cannot speak the language and his family must live in the lowest social circle, begging for food. Wang Lung's refusal to beg illustrates his pride. He could make more money begging, it seems, then he could by pulling a rickshaw around. However, he looks down on begging as women-and-children work. O-lan, due to her tragic past, has no problem overcoming such claims to dignity. We learn that in a past famine year she was sold as a slave by her parents. Indeed, the diligence and wisdom that she has displayed throughout the novel seems explained above all by her past. She has survived the worst of life, and she will survive this too.