Ha Jin's book "In the Pond" tells a beautifully crafted tale of one man, Shao Bin, who is forced to work in the Harvest Fertilizer Plant as a mechanic. Bin is a talented calligrapher and artist, and it is clear that he is frustrated by the way his talents are going to waste working as a mechanic. Plus the job is sometimes hard on his hands, which he needs for his art and writing. Even though Bin is one of the senior workers at the plant, he and his family are denied the chance of living in an apartment in the new complex because his bosses and their close friends take all of the big apartments. While Bin is generally a kind and calm man, he is angered and disturbed by this, and he decides to get back at his employers the only way he really knows how -- through his art.
Bin decides to draw a cartoon, and he depicts his employers in a less-than-flattering light. They are very angered by this, and they attempt to cause harm to Shao Bin and his reputation, all because of their own selfishness in taking all of the large apartments and not stopping to consider the needs of one of their best and most senior employees. Bin continues to draw his snide and sarcastic cartoons which depict the flaws of his employers, and the wrath of his employers only provokes newer and more satirical cartoons on his part.
Each new cartoon is more amusing than the last, and Bin draws on his employers' anger to create new and better cartoons each time he draws something. This makes the employers even more angry, which only adds fuel to the fire. This drawing and getting angry goes on for quite some time, but eventually Bin begins to realize that he has a great deal at stake when his employers threaten to fire him for his behavior. Because of their retaliation, Bin is torn between upholding his principles and keeping his job.
He believes in fairness for all people, and he believes that his employers are being selfish and unfair by taking the big apartments in the new complex for themselves when Bin clearly has a family he needs to have good housing for. Because of his employers' actions, Bin finds that a new need -- a need for justice -- is stirring in him. This is something that he hasn't felt before, since he's never really been noticeably wronged enough to become angry, but he decides that it must be there for a purpose, and he won't just turn away from it.
Bin's employers decide that they will transfer him, but they learn that the popularity of his cartoons has preceded him, and he is very much in demand wherever he would go. Anywhere he would be transferred to would quite likely be a step up for him and improve his position, so his employers decide to punish him by keeping him on where he is. They feel that not allowing him to rise through the ranks at their expense is the best punishment that they could give to Bin.
Eventually, he is promoted to work in the propaganda office, and although he is elated, he and his family are still stuck with the old, small apartment that started the whole mess in the first place. He never did get his larger apartment, which is all he really wanted. All of the exhaustive attacks and counterattacks between Bin and his employers could have been avoided if they simply would have offered him the larger apartment at the start.
Bin has a strong and seemingly inexhaustible spirit which seems to prevent him from simply giving in to his employers, who become increasingly angry with him. Bin's troubles continue to escalate, and eventually it reaches the point where he has lost six months of wages. In addition to the loss of money, a friendly newspaper in the area has been put out of business because of the anger of Bin's employers. While Bin is strong, he is only one person, and he eventually must reach the point where he has to decide whether he is going to continue…