Nearly a year passes, during which Wang Lung becomes increasingly irritated by the feckless behavior of his uncle and his uncle's wife. They have seven children, but no one in the family works very hard, if at all, and the family is always in want. One day his uncle comes to see Wang Lung in the fields, complaining about his ill-luck with his crops. He appeals to Wang Lung for financial help, but Wang Lung is unsympathetic, saying that he only has money because he works hard, unlike his uncle and his family, who waste their time gambling and gossiping. His uncle is angered by this and slaps Wang Lung. He threatens to denounce his nephew in the village. Wang Lung bows to this pressure, and asks his uncle what he wants him to do. His uncle asks for some silver. Reluctantly, Wang Lung returns home with his uncle and gives him nine pieces of silver. He also discovers that O-lan has given birth to their third child. This one is a girl, and neither O-lan nor Wang Lung are pleased at having a daughter, whom they consider as just another mouth to feed.
In the summer there is a long drought. Only one piece of Wang Lung's land, the piece by the moat, remains productive. But Wang Lung still manages to acquire money from the sale of his grain, and he uses it to buy more land adjoining the moat from the House of Hwang. The fortunes of the rich house continue to decline, since the Old Mistress will not stop spending money to satisfy her opium addiction, and the Old Lord still takes in new concubines. They are eager to sell, and Wang Lung buys a field of good land twice as big as his earlier purchase. He is proud that it once belonged to a prince.
The drought continues into autumn, and Wang Lung's harvest is scanty. They are all apprehensive because the land is failing them. Food becomes so scarce they are forced to kill their ox and eat it. Wang Lung does not have the courage to do this himself, so O-lan kill the ox. Wang Lung's uncle comes begging for food, and Wang Lung gives him some beans and corn, but when his uncle returns for more, Wang Lung refuses.
As winter comes on, people in the village go hungry. Wang Lung's uncle stirs up the villagers against his nephew, and they come as a mob to his house, intent on stealing the food they believe he has stored away. When they find he has little, they try to steal his furniture as well, but O-lan shames them into retreat. Although Wang Lung is distraught that he has nothing to feed his family with, he is comforted by the knowledge that he still owns land, and no one can take that away from him.
In his anger at the cruel fate that is overtaking him and his family, Wang Lung goes to the temple and spits on the statue of the god. The people are forced to eat grass and the bark of trees in order to survive. Dogs and horses are eaten until there are no animals left. As the bodies of Wang Lung's children get angular and bony, Wang Lung gives any food there is to his father. Ching, Wang Lung's neighbor, brings an alarming report that in the village, people are eating human flesh.
Wang Lung resolves to move to the south in search of better fortune. Ching, who feels guilty that he was one of the mob who robbed Wang Lung, gives him some dried red beans that he has saved.
O-lan goes into labor with their fourth child, but appears to strangle the infant girl moments after its birth.
Wang Lung is filled with despair. Apart from the few beans, there is no money and no food.
One day, Wang Lung's uncle and three other men come to visit him. His uncle explains that the three men are from the town, and they want to buy some of his land. Wang Lung is angered, and says he will never sell his land. O-lan backs him up, but says they will agree to sell their furniture, bedding and the cauldron from the stove. The men buy these items for two pieces of silver.
The reaction of Wang Lung and O-lan to the birth of their daughter reveals a key aspect of the society depicted in the novel. Women are not valued highly. Girls are not even considered part of the family into which they are born, since they will grow up to marry and become part of another family. O-lan's words after she has given birth are telling: "It is only a slave this time-not worth mentioning." Wang Lung does not even bother to look at the baby's face.
Also, Wang Lung's uncle complains about having only one son out of seven children. He blames his eldest daughter for being out of control because she talks to men on the street, and the family cannot find a husband for her.
Also in these chapters, Wang Lung's industry and diligence in providing for the security of his family is contrasted with the idleness of his uncle's family. This contrast is a continuing motif in the novel. It is like a parable that contrasts the fate of one man who is a good steward of the land with the fate of another man who is not.
Finally, the drought and famine demonstrate how totally dependent the peasants are on the land. The land gives its bounty in some years, and in others it withholds it. Wang Lung remains steadfast in his link to the land. He knows instinctively that he cannot afford to sever his connection to it, which is why he refuses to sell his land even when his family is desperate for food.