The Good Earth: Chapters 11-15

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 12739

Many countries have struggled, and still struggle, with the problem of slavery. It's hard to imagine placing a price on a human being, but you will encounter the miseries of slavery in these chapters!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


According to Buck's views, what is the difference between a son and a daughter in nineteenth-century Chinese culture? How does that strike you today?

  • In your previous reading in The Good Earth, have you noticed what term O-lan and Wang use to refer to their daughter?

If you said "slave," then you are correct.

  • Why is the daughter referred to as a slave and the sons are not?

This discrepancy has to do with the perception of male versus female children and the existence of slavery in nineteenth-century China.

Male children were considered more valuable because they would carry on their family's name and lineage. They would also inherit the family's possessions, land, and wealth. Men of the middle social classes would also be employed in a trade or civil service position. However, female children were considered less desirable because they would marry a man and live with the man's family, so the woman would belong to the man's family. While lower-class women were expected to work as laborers in the fields or laundries, daughters in the middle or upper social classes would be unable to work. A daughter's only financial worth lay in the ability to sell her as a slave or concubine (a mistress kept in a man's house). Although male children were sometimes also sold into slavery during times of economic distress, it was far more common for female children to be enslaved, just as O-lan was in the novel. These types of financial arrangements lasted in China into the twentieth century until slavery was ended after China's civil war in the 1930s and 1940s.

To learn more about slavery in nineteenth-century China, read the following article. As you read, answer the following questions in the notebook or journal you have been keeping on the novel:

  • What were common sources for slaves in Imperial China?
  • What types of labor did government-owned and privately-owned slaves perform?
  • When did the Qing dynasty attempt to formally abolish slavery, and in what year was slavery finally ended?

Read Slavery in Imperial China, by Kim, Young Yoon, World History at KMLA, to answer the above questions. Then, ponder these questions:

  • What about the history of slavery in China surpised you the most?
  • Do you agree that China should be considered a "slave-owning society" instead of a "slave society?"
  • What is the difference between the two terms, in your opinion?

After you've finished answering your questions in your notebook or journal, read Chapters Eleven through Fifteen in the novel. You will need to obtain a print copy of The Good Earth, which you can find in your local bookstore or library. As you read, take notes on the treatment of the Lung family in the south. Take notes on how northerners are treated and how poverty affects the Lung family unit.

When you have finished reading, move on to the Got It? section to check your comprehension and explore themes from these chapters more closely.

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