Wang Lung's first daughter is an unlucky child. Of course, just being a girl makes her unlucky, but she's also unlucky because she's born in the middle of a great famine. Let's just say the this girl wasn't the most wanted child ever conceived. Even though the second brother's birth didn't have as much fanfare as the first brother's, at least Wang Lung wasn't angry that he was born.
When the family is in the South, Wang Lung thinks about selling the first daughter in order to get back home. Normally, this would be a no-brainer, and she would be sold to the highest bidder. That was a common fate for poor girls in turn-of-the-century China (see our "Symbols" section for more information on the novel's historical context).
So what's the problem? Well, Wang Lung has grown to like the girl, so he is conflicted. "‘I might have done it,' he mused, 'if she had not lain in my bosom and smiled like that'" (13.26). Wang Lung shows he's capable of some real parental emotions here. Lucky for him, a rebellion comes along and gives him way more money than he could have made selling his first daughter, so he never has to make that sacrifice.
Still, it's not all roses for Wang Lung's first daughter: she becomes intellectually disabled as a result of the hardships brought about by the famine. She just doesn't get food. She cries and cries for it, but eventually she goes unanswered long enough that she learns to just lie quietly and suck at whatever people put in her mouth (9.5).
Pearl S. Buck spent much of her life taking care of her intellectually disabled daughter. She even wrote a book about her called The Child Who Never Grew. Buck is one of the first people to write about intellectually disabled children, and many of Wang Lung's thoughts are probably drawn from her personal experience of protecting and caring for her child.
His first daughter is the only person that Wang Lung actually takes care of. He is constantly caring for her because after O-lan dies, no one else will. During the famine, he even feeds her instead of eating himelf: “Only a few of the beans did Wang Lung bide in his own hand and these he put into his own mouth and he chewed them into a soft pulp and then putting his lips to the lips of his daughter he pushed into her mouth the food, and watching her small lips move, he felt himself fed" (9.30).
This is the only time Wang Lung sacrifices willingly for the sake of another person. He doesn't really have any other relationships in the book like this, though we imagine he might have improved his treatment of O-lan and Ching if they had lived. Either way, though, this is the only time Wang Lung really puts someone ahead of himself. Do you know what that's called? We're pretty sure that's called love.