A lowly clerk works for a trading company in Shanghai, and his boss is a former buddy from his early days growing up in their village. The buddy has promised him a promotion as soon as he can swing it, and meanwhile, the clerk is just barely getting by with a wife who is expecting and a young daughter, all living in a tiny apartment. The clerk has made the mistake of exaggerating his "wealth" and his position in the company to his relatives back in the village, and so when life in the village becomes too catastrophic (between the war against the Japanese and the current civil war, there is no food or money), the relatives decide to come live with the clerk in Shanghai. Unwilling to let them know how little he actually has, he and his wife use up all of their diminished resources - and borrow from friends - so his mother, brother, and his brother's wife and children can be cared for. Tragedy strikes this temporary show of financial security when the clerk loses his job because the trading company has folded (the boss decided to speculate in other areas of the financial market, hardly caring what happened to his "friend," the clerk). The clerk's wife leaves to have her baby under less costly and stressful conditions, he himself suffers a car accident, and his mother and brother finally realize that they have not escaped poverty at all. At this point, the clerk changes his assessment of whom he should rely on for job security, and starts to create a new survival plan.
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