The upcoming elections for class president are all the talk at Adeline's school with the two most likely candidates being Adeline and Chen Lei-Lei. On the day before the election, Adeline is worried about getting home on time so she hurries her final candidate speech in favor of her friend Chun-mei. When she gets home, Ye Ye and Aunt Baba confront her. They ask what her father told her as he whipped her. A scared Adeline chooses not to share; she instead talks about how much better her life is at school.
At school the next day, the class initiated the vote for class president and Adeline came out as winner. She is exuberant to receive this level of appreciation from her classmates, a massive honor in light of the responsibilities given to this first president. She skips back home filled with utter joy, incredulous at the successes she has accumulated at school. However, her joy is ruptured by the presence of her friends at her home, a massive violation of the Yen family rules. Niang and Father are furious at this intrusion and slap her before forcing her to kick her friends out. After this, Adeline is labeled ungrateful and told that she is to move away to a school in Tianjin.
Adeline is at first surprised to note how few people were boarding the flight to go to Tianjin, a noticeable inconsistency from the rest of the flights of Shanghai. On the flight, Father approaches Adeline and asks her for her native Chinese name, which he has forgotten. This show of disregard saddens Adeline, although she is a bit cheered up when Father allows her to share his birthday. Once they arrive in Tianjin, they drive far off into the night, arriving at some steel wrought gates that Adeline vaguely recognizes. After Niang greets the two nuns, Mother Marie and Mother Natalie, warmly, Adeline recognizes that they are at St. Joseph’s, her old school.
On the next day, Adeline learns that the reason for the mass diaspora out of Tianjin is the eminent arrival of the Communist party and the PLA. This seems like an incredibly cruel fate to consign a young girl to, regardless of the rivalry that had been formed. Adeline is put in a beginning english class, the exclusive spoken tongue of St. Joseph's. In another show of her excellent work ethic, Adeline learns the language well. By December of the same year, Adeline was the only person besides the nuns left at St. Joseph. The nights of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were particularly rough, with the nuns unable to adequately take care of the young girl. She has not yet received any letters from her family, prompting a deep sadness that is echoed in a letter she writes to Aunt Baba.
This numb back and forth is ended when Adeline hears news that her aunt has come to take her away to Hong Kong. Although originally excited by the prospect of Aunt Baba delivered salvation, she is shocked to find her Aunt Reine Schilling, Niang's older sister. Reine and the Schillings turn out to be kind souls, very much different from the rest of her family. After updating her with news of the fall of the Nationalist Party, Reine tells her they are going to Hong Kong with the rest of the family, who will be very much surprised to see Adeline again.
The trip on the British flagship China Star is highlighted by the friendliness of Adeline's cousins, Victor and Claudine. Fair and educated, they care about making sure that Adeline has a good time and is treated equally. Adeline is stunned that the distribution of the beds inside the cabin is distributed by the drawing of lots, not by age. At night, Adeline would fantasize about being adopted by them. Although Niang does not seem angry when she sees that Adeline has returned, Adeline looks to avoid her at all costs. She is sheltered by Ye Ye before there can be greater repercussions at her arrival. Various family outings are then organized, all which leave out Adeline. Victor is quick to note this and proclaim his disapproval.
During these outings, Adeline stays home with her grandfather. While talking to him, she reflects on the importance of the Chinese language and why she should keep working to master it, regardless of her preferences for English. Ye Ye gives her a lecture on the beauty of Chinese language, imparting a great deal of knowledge onto Adeline. The next day, Adeline is again about to be left out of a large family outing. This time, Victor stands up for her and declares that he will not go. The two hang back together and Adeline is so grateful that she gives him her only book, Paper Magic.
There is an interesting backstory to the elections for president, the greater historical theme of China being strongly influenced by the culture of their conquerors. With the United States as their benevolent overlords, China now sees the inherent superiority of democracy. The election of is particularly lucid in the context of the close allegiance between China and the United States but ironic when looking at the country's communist future.
Adeline's victory is presumed by the reader but momentous for the character herself, the first sign of confirmation that she is doing things the right way. Particularly of notice is the way her classmates look at he, admiringly. Adeline is not just another student, picked at random by a group of uncaring peers. She is the bona fide leader of a group of girls who truly care about the idea of democracy and who their leader is. In a way, the presidency serves as a metaphor for acceptance. While at home it is not achieved, she has earned it at school.
The subsequent reaction of Father and Niang is irrational and odd. Although they are clearly the antagonists of the novel, their behavior is overly villainous, and does not align with their care for appearances. The contempt shown by Chun-mei is commendable but at the end of the day worthless, like the encouragement of Ye Ye and Aunt Baba.
Adeline's flight to Tianjin is depressing on a variety of levels. First, there is the fact that her father cares so little for her that he does not remember her name or her birthdate. Secondly, the unbelievable negligence that would allow someone to abandon their child in the path of an incoming army is stunning. Finally, the imagery that surrounds a young girl, destitute and alone, spending Christmas time alone in a church is haunting. The reader’s emotions are truly engaged during this chapter of Adeline's chilling life.
Finally, we get to our first true heroes of the stories, the Schillings. Sadly, they are exemplary because of how normal they are. The Schilling's actions only seem out of the ordinary because we have been exclusively exposed to the Yen family, a group not worth imitation. The humanity expressed by the Schilling, especially Victor, provide us with hope and allow for the only other characters that we can feel proud to support.