Xu Fugui loses the family mansion gambling to Long'er. His wife finally forgives him and they are reunited. He and his friend Chun are then drafted by the Chinese Nationals to fight the Communists in the Chinese Civil War. They are captured by the Communists and "join" them.
The Communists win and Xu goes home. Long'er burns the mansion down rather than "give" the mansion to the Communists. Long'er is executed and Xu realizes just how ugly things can get under the new regime.
Ten years later during a "Great Leap Forward" the community contributes to steel production by giving up their pots and pans to make a pitiful amount of steel. Chun is now a district bureaucrat and accidentally runs over Xu's only son. Xu and his family spurn Chun's efforts to apologize.
Ten years later their only daughter falls in love with a member of the Red Guard. Chun has now been branded a reactionary and finds Xu to say that he will commit suicide and wants to give Xu all of his money. Xu's wife then announces that Chun owes them a life and they want Chun to live. Their daughter goes to the hospital to give birth which is now run by nurses because the doctors are in re-education after being branded reactionaries. After giving birth to a boy, their daughter hemorrhages and without doctors the nurses are unable to save her.
Ten years later Xu, his wife, his son in law and his grandson honor their dead, work, eat and continue "to live".
Thanks Don P!