Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Ling Tan and his family all live together on their ancestral farm. In addition to Ling Tan and his wife, Ling Sao, there are three sons and a daughter. Lao Ta, one of the sons, and his wife, Orchid, have two children. Lao Er, another son, and his wife, Jade, are newly married.
While Orchid is the conventional wife and daughter-in-law, Lao Er’s wife, Jade, is different. She reveals to her husband that she wants more than what is given and wants to be more than what is expected of a woman. Lao Er is wise enough to realize that his strong-willed, intelligent, thoughtful wife is more blessing than encumbrance and promises that on his next visit to the city he will buy her a book, something no one else in his household ever held.
In the city, Lao Er visits his older sister and her husband Wu Lien. Wu Lien is a shopkeeper, and while Lao Er is visiting, students come to the shop and destroy all the foreign merchandise. They call Wu Lien a traitor. This is one of the earliest indications to the Ling family of the impending Japanese invasion and occupation.
One day Ling Tan is working in his fields when the first Japanese warplanes arrive. They fly over the Lings’ village on the way to the city. The Lings are too naïve to know what happened until that night, when Wu Lien brings his entire household with him, seeking refuge. His shop was gutted by a bomb, and much of the city is damaged.
Ling Tan and Lao San go into the city...
(The entire section is 1115 words.)
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Dragon Seed champions the need for more active support of China as the Chinese recoil from the horrors of the Japanese invasion early in World War II. Its major theme is the outrageousness of man's inhumanity to man in wartime. Men of peace and sense, reasons the protagonist Ling Tan, in all parts of the world should band together and forbid life to all who would make war. If a child is observed to demonstrate the potential aggression of war, he should be isolated and treated, and then, if unteachable, locked up. If men had been born for warfare, they would have been made with shells as turtles have, into which they could retreat when threatened. A man who is honorable should feel sickened and angry at the thought of war.
Since, however, the Chinese peasants are being plagued by these brutal Ocean little dwarfs" who, it is hinted, "fear a little" the great nation called America, then America should join the war effort to help liberate them of the menace. To this end, the Japanese are portrayed in all the savagery that war engenders; they kill Wu Lien's obese old mother "like a pig stuck for butchering" and they sodomize Ling Tan's youngest son, forcing his father to behold the gruesome violation.
(The entire section is 213 words.)