The protagonist in The Things They Carried is Tim O'Brien, who is also the narrator. In Ha Jin's Saboteur, Mr. Chiu is the protagonist.
As for literary conflicts, there are four major ones: man versus nature, man versus man, man versus society, and man versus self.
A literary conflict both protagonists share is the man versus society conflict.
In The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien writes about his experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War. He laments the fact that he is still writing about war at the age of forty-three years. However, he asserts that writing is a cathartic experience for him and is the only way he can maintain his sanity in the face of latent grief and pain. O'Brien moralizes about society's expectations in regard to courage and duty. He admits that he was against the war while he attended college.
As a pacifist, he has always maintained that 'when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause.' So, when the draft notice came on June 17, 1968, O'Brien felt ambivalent and angry. As a liberal, he was against war as a matter of principle, but in the face of overwhelming evidence, felt pressured to conform to societal expectations of duty.
Moreover, I could not claim to be opposed to war as a matter of general principle. There were occasions, I believed, when a nation was justified in using military force to achieve its ends, to stop a Hitler or some comparable evil, and I told myself that in such circumstances I would've willingly marched off to the battle. The problem, though, was that a draft board did not let you choose your war.
O'Brien also reports feeling alienated from the society of his peers after being reassigned to battalion supply duty following his injuries. Besides having to endure physical discomfort during his convalescence, O'Brien finds that his reassignment has oddly relegated him to civilian status among his peers.
I felt close to them, yes, but I also felt a new sense of separation... They were still my buddies, at least on one level, but once you leave the boonies, the whole comrade business gets turned around. You become a civilian. You forfeit membership in the family, the blood fraternity, and no matter how hard you try, you can't pretend to be part of it.
So, O'Brien faces a sort of double conflict: prior to leaving for Vietnam, he has to reconcile his own principles with society's expectations, and after his injuries, he has to reconcile himself to his alienation from his peers while reassigned to non-combat duty.
In Saboteur, Mr. Chiu's conflict with society is no less fraught with physical and emotional pain. When he falls victim to the machinations of a self-important railroad policeman, Mr. Chiu finds that the crowd is more intent on satisfying its curiosity than on helping him. As such, no one speaks up on his behalf despite his innocence. To make matters worse, some of the people in the crowd have signed obviously spurious statements maligning his good name to the authorities.
Mr. Chiu was dazed to see the different handwritings, which all stated that he had shouted in the square to attract attention and refused to obey the police. One of the witnesses had identified herself as a purchasing agent from a shipyard in Shanghai. Something stirred in Mr. Chiu's stomach, a pain rising to his ribs. He gave out a faint moan.
Mr. Chiu finds that his membership in the Communist party and his prestigious position as a lecturer at Harbin University have proven useless in his quest for justice. He is imprisoned and left to suffer for two days without benefit of any medication for his heart condition and his hepatitis ailment. Upon his release, he is still so angry that he would have 'razed the entire police station and eliminated all their families' had he had the ability to do so.
Instead, he decides to spread his hepatitis disease to as many people as he can.
As if dying of hunger, Mr. Chiu dragged his lawyer from restaurant to restaurant near the police station, but at each place he ordered no more than two bowls of food. Fenjin wondered why his teacher wouldn't stay at one place and eat his fill...Within a month over eight hundred people contracted acute hepatitis in Muji. Six died of the disease, including two children. Nobody knew how the epidemic had started.
In Mr. Chiu's eyes, society has been corrupted by Communist oppression. Additionally, it is implied that Mr Chiu also holds his countrymen responsible for tolerating such a pitiful state of affairs. His impotence in the face of suffering leads Mr. Chiu to lash out at society as a whole: he uses his body as a biological weapon to inflict as much suffering on as many people as he can.