In The Good Earth, the theme of the importance of family, especially respect for elders, is illustrated by Wang Lung’s relationship with his father.
When we first meet Wang Lung, we discover that he has been taking care of his father since his mother died six years ago:
This was the last morning he would have to light the fire... He had lit the fire, boiled water, and poured the water into a bowl and taken it into the room where his father sat upon his bed… Every morning for these six years the old man had waited for his son to bring in hot water to ease him of his morning coughing.
Caring for the family, especially parents, is a fundamental value of traditional Chinese society. It was a significant responsibility, and children were expected to go to great lengths to tend to their parents’ needs. When the famine hits years later, Wang Lung feeds his father what little food they have before he feeds his children, because caring for his father is his primary responsibility.
As for the old man, he fared better than any, for if there was anything to eat he was given it, even though the children were without. Wang Lung said to himself proudly that none should say in the hour of death he had forgotten his father. Even if his own flesh went to feed him the old man should eat.
When the family leaves their farm and travels to the city, Wang Lung’s elderly father is too feeble from hunger to walk, so Wang Lung carries him, despite his own fragile state after prolonged starvation:
…he saw that the old man would fall… and stooping under his father he lifted him on his back and carried him, staggering under the old man's dry, wind-light frame.
Wang Lung himself is starving and weak, yet that does not stop him from performing his familial obligations. This is not considered a significant sacrifice on the part of the son—it is the father’s due in Chinese society. It is merely what is expected, and Wang Lung’s father feels entitled to this treatment. He does not have to worry when he receives nothing when the family begs, because he knows he will be taken care of.
He slept and woke and stared at what passed him, and when he grew weary he slept again. And being of the older generation, he could not be reproved. When he saw that his hands were empty he said merely:
"I have ploughed land, and I have sown seed, and I have reaped harvest, and thus have I filled my rice bowl. And I have beyond this begotten a son and son's sons."
And with this he trusted like a child that now he would be fed, seeing that he had a son and grandsons.
Wang Lung’s father feels no guilt over allowing his son to care for him. That is the convention in Chinese society at this time, and this demonstrates the theme of the importance of family in The Good Earth.