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Spring Pearl: The Last Flower

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Spring Pearl: The Last Flower is a book in the Girls of Many Lands series relating to Chou Spring Pearl. It was released in 2002 and available with the doll and separately, but retired with the collection in 2005.

Characters

See Characters in Spring Pearl: The Last Flower

Chapter by Chapter Summary

Chapter One: The Lost Garden

Spring Pearl sadly moves out of her shack, helped by one of Sung's servants, a boy calling himself Doggy. He warns her not to do any manual labor and to act fragile when she is in the Sung household, but she insists that she wants to earn her keep and not worry about what a girl is supposed to act like. When she is about to leave, she takes and repots one of the few surviving plants in the garden.

Chapter Two: The Rats' Nest

Spring Pearl says farewell to her neighbors and receives various parting gifts. She is amazed at how well her parents were loved, but feels that she cannot live up to their memory because she cannot sew or paint. Doggy insists that the fact that she loves to help people is enough. Spring Pearl also passes the area where the British had been interned, feeling sad that innocent foreigners like her father's friend, Mr. Fortescue, had been forced out during the war in 1856. Doggy lectures the pragmatic Spring Pearl that making things simpler, like fighting through a crowd and walking instead of taking a cart, will only get her ridiculed, but it makes no sense to her.

Chapter Three: The Cage

In the Sung household, even the servants are lavishly dressed, self-absorbed snobs, and Master Sung's daughters - Miss Emerald, Miss Willow, and Miss Oriole - are even worse. Despite being aged twelve, ten, and eight, they mock Spring Pearl's love of gardening and her "large" (i.e. unbound) feet, and are embarrassed that their mother never bound her own feet when Spring Pearl points it out. Miss Emerald nicknames her "Miss Ratty" to make fun of her former home, but Miss Oriole shyly defends her, barely knowing what the big deal is. Spring Pearl is horrified that the other girls wave away the war, certain that China will win, and only care about fashion.

Chapter Four: The Test

Spring Pearl meets Master Sung, who is quite kind to her, and Mistress Sung, who is just as sharp-tongued and judging as her older daughters. They test her to see how much she can read, and though she reluctantly pretends that she is incompetent at it, it quickly becomes clear to everyone that she can read better than all of the Sung children. Mistress Sung highly disapproves that their guest is "more of a son than a daughter" and calls her "my husband's orphan", and threatens to turn her out on the street, but with some convincing from her husband, allows Spring Pearl to stay as a seamstress.

Chapter Five: Pins and Needles

Mistress Sung sets Spring Pearl to work learning to sew, at which she is humiliated because of her ineptitude. Spring Pearl again offers to cook, repair things, or tend the garden, but the very idea horrifies Mistress Sung. Snow Goose, the smug servant, teaches Spring Pearl to make shoes and talks behind her back. The miserable Spring Pearl goes out to work in the garden anyway and plants her flower there. At the dinner table, it becomes even more clear that the only person she can relate to is Master Sung, who shares her taste in art, literature, and politics, and her disinterest in keeping up appearances. Blessing, the Sungs' crude, rash only son, challenges Spring Pearl to various games and loses every time, prompting his sisters to gleefully gamble to win all his things when he loses.

Chapter Six: Miss Weed

Blessing begins to annoy Spring Pearl; even his sisters hypocritically call him frivolous and say that he flits from one interest to another. The sisters, overjoyed at her winnings, become annoying as well through their attempts at friendliness, as they attempt to give her a makeover. Furthermore, Doggy reveals that he has been gambling on Spring Pearl staying at the Sung household and won a great sum of money from the other servants, who thought she would not last a day. Spring Pearl understandably begins to wonder if people are only nice to her because it brings them money. She retreats to the garden more and more, and her nickname, "Miss Ratty", is replaced by "Miss Weed". Master Sung's friends Mister Ma and Lord Chin, over from protesting the defense tax for a second war with the British that they are sure will never start, laugh and scorn her when they see her weeding. Spring Pearl later interrupts the conversation by adding her own opinions. Later, the Lord mutters something about how Spring Pearl is under Master Sung's "wing".

Chapter Seven: The Power Behind the Throne

Spring Pearl feels embarrassed at being pitied and mocked by high society, but refuses to be pampered and made useless like the Sung girls. She is met in the garden by Mistress Sung, who surprises her by relating that she had been tomboyish and practical when she was younger and had been made fun of, which is why she is so careful about appearances. She encourages Spring Pearl to find her place in life, so that everyone will love her and she can still be herself. Mistress Sung also apologizes for her snobbish, cold behavior earlier, as she had only been protecting her gullible, overly kind husband, whose other friends tend to leech off him. She offers Spring Pearl a chance to become their new clerk instead of sewing terrible shoes. At this job, Spring Pearl learns a great deal more about the workings of the household.

Chapter Eight: The Traitor

The house is thrown into chaos in the middle of the night, stormed by soldiers attacking Master Sung and his household for their involvement in the protest against the ever-growing defense tax. Spring Pearl runs out to save him and is shocked that Master Sung was betrayed by Lord Chin, one of his own friends, and is to be tried for high treason. As he is led off in chains, his only request to Mistress Sung is to think of their children. The household stands alone in a mission to try and save their leader after the other tax protesters are scared into hiding, and Spring Pearl and Doggy are sent to talk their way into providing him with new clothes in prison.

Chapter Nine: The Collector

On their way to the prison, Doggy confides to Spring Pearl that he hopes that the British will win the next war so that merchants and servants will gain more rights, although he agrees with the horrified Pearl that their opium trade should cease. Lord Chin refuses to let them in to see Master Sung, but Spring Pearl plays upon his ego and allows him to show her his collection of her parents' art. She offers up her pink silk aoku, her mother's last work, for the collection in order to see Master Sung, and is finally admitted.

Chapter Ten: Hope

Master Sung has been tortured and humiliated, but can still manage to worry about Lord Chin's plans to confiscate the family's property for himself. Doggy promises to continue to bring care packages, and Spring Pearl wants to help any way she can. Master Sung tells her to help his wife take care of the family and tells her that she is like another daughter to him, not a charity case. When she gets home, Spring Pearl tries to lie to Miss Emerald about her father's condition, but the eldest daughter sees through that and reveals that she too is tough inside, although even her parents treat her like a precious doll. The rest of the family buys the story, but Miss Emerald and Mistress Sung demand the truth, and Spring Pearl finally caves. Soon, the group sets up a chain of bribes to supply Master Sung with food and medicine while keeping atop the looming war threat.

Chapter Eleven: Roots

The household is again awoken in the night, this time from British and French bombardment. Spring Pearl, dressed as a peasant boy, runs out to investigate, again accompanied by Doggy for her own safety. The streets are full of running civilians and the army itself is in a panic; they barely make it out alive, but they are convinced that the army has lost and run back to warn the others. Mistress Sung, confronted with the knowledge that they can either escape and die or stay and die, sits in the garden reminiscing about her past. She shares her regrets that she chose the image of a rich matriarch who can afford to waste and could never touch a speck of dirt over her true self. Soon the whole family is walking in the dirt, picking flowers.

Chapter Twelve: The Return

Within less than a day, the foreign armies have claimed the city walls. Two days later, they invade the city itself, and Spring Pearl and Doggy go out to investigate. They meet some English soldiers, including Mr. Chou's old friend Mr. Fortescue, who tells them that Governor Po is attempting to make peace with the foreigners. Back home, Mistress Sung relates that her people were attacked many times when she was a girl simply for being different, and prepares to defend her own walls. A week later, Viceroy Yeh is taken prisoner and Governor Po is now for the most part a British puppet, although he does arrest Lord Chin and free Master Sung and Mister Ma, who was also a prisoner. The family reunites happily, but Spring Pearl once again feels like an outsider.

Chapter Thirteen: The Warriors

As Master Sung's health improves, the unsteady peace over Canton breaks once again as restless foreign soldiers and Chinese thieves loot the neighboring shops and mansions. Spring Pearl warns the family, who immediately mobilize to defend their home again. A fight to drive off the looters soon follows, with handmade spears, kitchen knives, garden rocks, and heirloom swords working for a while, but the family is soon surrounded. Spring Pearl recognizes her old neighbor, Hammer, among the thieves, and he backs down and turns on his group; Master Sung then offers to pay them all to help defend the property from other looters and soldiers. The family embraces each other, inviting Spring Pearl to join them. She is, for all intents and purposes, now one of them.

Chapter Fourteen: The Flower

Peace is forming again, but thanks to insurgent patriots and indignant soldiers, still very uneasy. While working in the garden, Spring Pearl is summoned to the main hall for something "urgent", which turns out to be the return of her pink silk aoku, confiscated from Lord Chin. She now has a third nickname, "Miss Pearl", replacing the old one, and the Sungs throw a banquet in her honor. On top of everything, Mrs. Chou's flower is finally in full bloom. Doggy decides to leave the mansion to follow his dream of working with his uncle, and asks Spring Pearl to be their interpreter to foreigners, but she smugly rejects him. She might want to be a free merchant someday, but right now, she is happy where she is.

Then and Now: China

Discusses a girl's life in 1857 China. Topics include:

  • The Chinese's deep value to their traditions.
  • What married and unmarried girls would have worn.
  • How people carried money around.
  • What jewelery was made out of and Chinese hairstyles.
  • Foot binding and the ethnic groups who didn't bind feet.
  • The bahavior expected from girls and education.
  • Canton's adventurous cuisine.
  • Where wealthy, and poor, families lived.
  • Why the British attacked China in the First Opium War.
  • The Second Opium War and how it changed China.
  • The 'Golden Mountain', or America.
  • Life in China today.

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