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by Laurence Yep

Dragonwings Chapter 4 Summary

Tests (April, 1903-February, 1904)

  • Moon Shadow reflects on the camaraderie of the Company. He considers the men his brothers more than his business partners or friends.
  • The narrator details his daily routine, which is not much different than the long hours he kept on the family farm in China. Other than chores, Moon Shadow goes to a special school for Tang children that is really underfunded and crumby (Tang children aren't allowed in school with the other American children). It's much more effective for Moon Shadow to learn from the Company.
  • Throughout the day, Uncle and Windrider talk with Moon Shadow in English as much as they can, referencing the demons' magazines and newspapers.
  • In school with the other Tang children, Moon Shadow learns about the Chinese classics.
  • Moon Shadow works sixteen hours a day. Kind of puts the task of reading this book in perspective, eh?
  • The job Moon Shadow likes best is delivering and picking up laundry from customers. We learn that Windrider's English is the best in the Company.
  • We meet Red Rabbit, the horse that pulls the delivery wagon. Ironically, Red Rabbit is lazy and slow, though he was named after a god of war.
  • Uncle worries that Moon Shadow will get hurt by leaving the Tang quarters of town. But Windrider insists that Moon Shadow is ready.
  • At this point in the story, Moon Shadow has been in America for one month.
  • Moon Shadow is afraid when he goes out on the wagon with Windrider for the first time. Sensing this, Windrider comforts his son by speaking of the Old Ones, the ancestors that they burn incense for and who watch over them.
  • Moon Shadow learns how his grandfather died: a demon had cut off Grandfather's queue. Instead of silently taking it, Grandfather spat in the faces of the demons and destroyed them. By the end of it, though, he was overtaken and hung by the demons.
  • Moon Shadow goes to the doors of the laundry customers with his father, proud to help out with a bundle or two.
  • During their wagon journeys, Windrider tells Moon Shadow about his first years in America. Moon Shadow likes it best when he sings tunes that his parents came up with – something about foxes and not having any clothes (4.18-30).
  • Moon Shadow learns about the demons' dressing habits through all this laundry handling. He thinks things like petticoats are hilarious.
  • Moon Shadow feels safe with his father, whom he believes to be a "superior man" (4.32).
  • He remembers the one tense encounter they had on delivery where some demon boys threw stuff at them in the wagon and cursed at them. Windrider whispered for his son to sit confidently.
  • One day Windrider and Moon Shadow meet Mr. Alger, a stranger by the side of the road with a busted horseless carriage.
  • Windrider pulls over Red Rabbit and the wagon and offers the man his help. Windrider figures out what is up with the motor. When Mr. Alger offers him some money, Windrider refuses it.
  • Impressed, Mr. Alger gives Windrider his card, saying that he could use "honest handymen" (4.47).
  • Moon Shadow reads Mr. Alger's business card, so we learn his name is Oliver and he is in real estate.
  • Windrider uses this exchange as an example of how machines provide a way of communicating without the trip-ups of verbal language. Windrider likens his handiwork with the horseless carriage to his surgery on the Dragon King: his hands just know what to do.
  • Moon Shadow wonders whether the encounter with Mr. Alger was a test of the Dragon King.
  • Windrider studies the demons' newspapers and magazines extra hard after meeting Mr. Alger.
  • Moon Shadow not only has to learn two languages (English and Mandarin Chinese) but also two sets of time, two calendars.
  • Moon Shadow wants to improve his Chinese skills so he can write to Mother and read her frequent letters. Grandmother complains that they have started to spend more money on letters since Moon Shadow's arrival in America.
  • Moon Shadow writes his first lines to Mother and Grandmother in November 1903.
  • After receiving one of her letters, Moon Shadow feels bad for neglecting his family in China, realizing that he has all but forgotten what his life was like there. He thinks of his mother memorizing his father's letters, and misses her.
  • Windrider shows Moon Shadow the January 17, 1904 edition of the New York Herald, announcing that demons have flown an aeroplane. Demons, the Wright brothers, po-tay-to, po-tah-to. He decides that he could fly, too.
  • Uncle and White Deer play Chinese chess, or go, downstairs. Uncle doesn't believe the news about the Wright brothers. He sits in his throne at the table so the Company knows not to argue with him.
  • Melon Head, a fellow laundryman from Oakland, visits and tells the Company about some Baldwin demon who floated in the winds with a canvas bag full of air called the California Arrow (4.78). Baldwin is testing his device to race it at some big fair.
  • Uncle Bright Star is upset by this news; he sees all these accounts of flying as bullsugar. He accuses Windrider for being too deep in a fantasy world, and ends up spilling the beans that Windrider is hoping to bring Moon Shadow's mom over from China.
  • Windrider explains that the demon laws are such that only a merchant can bring a wife over to America. We then learn that the Company had pretended that Windrider was a partner in the laundry company so that he could bring Moon Shadow over. The thing that is stopping them from bringing Mother over on the same documents is that Uncle Bright Star has put his foot down. If they try to use those documents saying that Windrider is a partner in the Company, Uncle will go report him.
  • In his defense, Uncle explains that the Land of the Golden Mountain is no place for Moon Shadow's mother. After all, they are getting bricks hurled at them.
  • Before Uncle and Windrider get into a ginormo fight over the point of flying, Windrider and Moon Shadow bid the crew goodnight and go upstairs.
  • Moon Shadow is super-excited about the prospect of his mom coming over to America. Windrider tells his son not to hold his breath, saying that he's more likely to fly than be able to bring his wife over.
  • Moon Shadow seems convinced that his dad just needs to fly in his softskin body, and then all their problems will be solved. He'll pass the test to turn back into a dragon, Uncle would believe in him and his dream, and then Mother could be brought over (4.99).
  • The next day, Uncle apologizes to Windrider by way of chastising himself for drinking too much. Windrider irons.
  • White Deer tells Moon Shadow not to blame Uncle for his misguided behavior. He says that Uncle is having a rough time with Black Dog, and he's taking it out on Windrider.
  • Ten days later, Black Dog still has not returned. White Deer and Windrider agree to look for him.
  • Lefty shares his plan to gamble with Leopard Head, a man from the north country who was part of the Brotherhood of Eternal Repose. Black Dog is also part of this brotherhood, nicknamed the Sleepers.
  • Uncle is too proud to admit that he wants help with Black Dog, so he makes the Company promise not to look for him. Uncle suddenly decides to go visit Whirlwind, another member of the Sleepers.
  • With Uncle gone, the Company splits up to search: Windrider is in charge of covering the opium dens, White Deer the restaurants, Lefty the gambling dens, and Hand Clap the brothels. Moon Shadow convinces his dad to let him tag along, though he's warned that the opium dens are super-shady.
  • Windrider and Moon Shadow head to an opium den in the alley called Devil's Kitchen.
  • Windrider talks to a man inside and associates himself with the Heavenly Order brotherhood in Sacramento ("the Little City") in 1897. The man responds positively and references the fighting that took place in Sacramento then. He recognizes him as Windrider and promises to let him know if Black Dog shows up.
  • Windrider and Moon Shadow go to three more dens with no more luck. But then they see three men, the Justices, go into an opium den and come out with a half-naked man they identify as Black Dog. Two other men come out from the den in defense of Black Dog and refer to one of the Justices as Bloody Hands. He has a pistol. We learn that Black Dog stole from a lady before beating her up.
  • Black Dog doesn't look afraid when he speaks to the middle Justice, Lead Hand. He compares him to a cockroach that he'll trample in a future life, which, believe it or not, Lead Hand is not so crazy about. He pulls the safety of the gun.
  • At this moment, Windrider does two special whistles that sound like police shrills. Lead Hand and the other two men run off scared.
  • Windrider and Moon Shadow go to Black Dog, who resists their advances. Windrider knocks him out with a punch and throws him over his shoulder.
  • Moon Shadow gawks at Black Dog before collecting his hat and shirt like Windrider tells him to do.

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