Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371

There are five main characters of Camel Xiangzi.

The main character, who gives the story its title, is Xiangzi (or Hsiang-tzu), who earns the title "camel" because, by a twist of luck, he happens to come across camels whom he is able to sell. Xiangzi wishes to move up...

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There are five main characters of Camel Xiangzi.

The main character, who gives the story its title, is Xiangzi (or Hsiang-tzu), who earns the title "camel" because, by a twist of luck, he happens to come across camels whom he is able to sell. Xiangzi wishes to move up in Peking society by purchasing a rickshaw, which could earn him enough money to live comfortably. However, a series of misfortunes throughout the story keep him poor and miserable; by the conclusion of the story, he is so broken that he abandons his dreams.

Old Master Liu is Xiangzi's employer for most of the story. Liu is depicted as very conceited, a former member of a Chinese triad, worried about appearances and money. He provides Xiangzi with a rickshaw so that the boy can earn a living. He is also the father of Hu Niu (meaning "tiger girl") and strongly disapproves of her relationship with Xiangzi.

Hu Niu herself is a stereotypical "dragon lady" of Chinese literature, bent on seducing and consuming the protagonist. Hu Niu weds Xiangzi but finds that he does not make enough money and his rural upbringing embarrasses her. While she becomes pregnant with Xiangzi's child, both she and the child die during birth.

Mr. Ts'ao is a university professor who hires Xiangzi to be a personal rickshaw chauffeur and is the only customer who treats Xiangzi well. However, Ts'ao's political beliefs put him in opposition to the leadership of Peking and the police; he is forced to flee the city, and the police shake down Xiangzi, believing him to be in league with Ts'ao, taking all of Xiangzi's life savings.

Finally, the girl Hsiao Fu Tzu ("little Fu Tzu") is the last character to play a major role in Xiangzi's life. She is his neighbor and, unlike Hu Niu, is kindly and will do anything to help her family. However, her father is lazy and sends Hsiao Fu Tzu into prostitution at a brothel to pay his own debts. Xiangzi attempts to purchase Hsiao Fu Tzu from the brothel, but finds he is too late, as she has committed suicide. This pushes Xiangzi over the edge, breaking his spirit and leaving him an empty and useless man.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772

Hsiang-tzu

Hsiang-tzu, a Beijing rickshaw puller born and reared in the countryside. Self-confident, brawny, and hardworking, the twenty-year-old orphan enthusiastically adopts the colorful capital of northern China as his lifelong home. Although he pulls rickshaws with exemplary zeal and skill, his rural naïveté and his low position in the social class structure combine to bring him one misfortune after another. Having lost his wife during a breech childbirth and, subsequently, his fiancée through suicide, and having seen his hard-earned life savings repeatedly slip through his fingers, Hsiang-tzu sinks into the urban underclass of shiftless vagrants when his once iron-hard will to better himself finally breaks. He becomes a mere husk of his former self.

Old Liu

Old Liu, the vain and overbearing owner of the rickshaw agency where Hsiang-tzu rooms and works during much of the novel. A former soldier of fortune who, in his younger days, amassed a large nest egg through mobster racketeering, the seventy-year-old man has since settled down to the more mundane occupation of renting out rickshaws to men who cannot afford to buy their own. His only child, a thirtyish daughter who is increasingly fearful of ending her days as a spinster, seduces Hsiang-tzu and tries to persuade Old Liu to accept the lad from the countryside as his son-in-law. Enraged that she would shame the family name by getting engaged to somebody of such humble origins, in a fit of pique Old Liu self-righteously disowns his daughter, abruptly sells the agency, and finally condemns himself to living out his remaining days in grim loneliness.

Hu Niu

Hu Niu, Old Liu’s daughter, the real brains behind the day-to-day management of the Liu family rickshaw agency. Wily, aggressive, and fiery in temper as well as passions, she presides as the dominant partner in her marriage with Hsiang-tzu. Although she appreciates the crucial role Hsiang-tzu plays in her sex life, his homespun rural attitudes toward work and the family occasionally infuriate her, so much so that she curses him as a bumpkin. Ironically, Hu Niu joins the ranks of the poverty-stricken multitude whom she had always scorned as being improvident and undeserving of compassion: Disinherited by her father and with her modest savings almost gone, she finally lacks the means to secure proper medical care during childbirth and dies in her humble cottage along with her stillborn child.

Mr. Ts’ao

Mr. Ts’ao, a kindly professor and armchair socialist who twice hires Hsiang-tzu to be his family’s private rickshaw man. The modest and orderly household that this fortyish man heads seems to Hsiang-tzu a veritable oasis: Of the many families that hire Hsiang-tzu for a stint as a private rickshaw man, only the Ts’ao family treats Hsiang-tzu as a dignified human being worthy of respect. Unfortunately, Ts’ao’s political affiliations get him in trouble with the right-wing government, and he must flee town hurriedly, thus leaving Hsiang-tzu stranded. By the time Ts’ao returns to Beijing, Hsiang-tzu has encountered so many wrenching reversals in his own life that he no longer has the strength of character to maintain his belief in the value of hard work, even in an enlightened residence like that of the Ts’aos.

Hsiao Fu Tzu

Hsiao Fu Tzu, the ill-fated fiancée of Hsiang-tzu during the period following the death of Hu Niu. She is a kindly, submissive, and self-sacrificing young woman of barely twenty who is forced into prostitution by her ne’er-do-well father, Old Ch’iang. Hsiang-tzu is about to buy her way out of the brothel where she has been working under duress; he hopes to marry her and take her back to the Ts’ao residence, where he has been offered the job of private rickshaw puller. Hsiao Fu Tzu’s suicide at the wretched brothel functions as the final straw and breaks Hsiang Tzu’s will to struggle on as a self-respecting manual laborer.

Yuan Ming

Yuan Ming, a lazy, opportunistic, and chameleonic student who raises a serious political accusation with the government against his teacher, Mr. Ts’ao. Mr. Ts’ao has friends in high places who protect him from being placed on the most-wanted list of left-wing extremists, but this protection does not extend to Hsiang-tzu, whose life savings are confiscated by an unscrupulous police detective during the evening when the Ts’ao family flees their home to lie low for several months. Ironically, Yuan Ming eventually gets involved in a secret plot with bona fide leftist politicos and is betrayed to the police by none other than the increasingly unconscionable Hsiang-tzu, who receives an under-the-table payoff from the police.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564

The protagonist is a composite of two 1930’s Peking rickshaw men whose travails sparked Lao She’s imagination. One had stolen three camels from some marauding soldiers to compensate for their confiscation of his rickshaw, while the other rickshaw man was forced by one calamity after another to pawn every rickshaw which he had bought, finally sinking into extreme penury. Hsiang-tzu’s nickname and brief notoriety evolved from the first rickshaw man’s camel caper, but the overall tenor of the protagonist’s life resonates more fully with the string of bitter reversals that ground down the second rickshaw man.

A key irony in the harshness of Hsiang-tzu’s fate is his long-standing obliviousness to the risks of establishing a place for himself in an unfamiliar urban environment: In his optimism that borders on foolhardiness, he has eyes for only the opportunities that the city offers. Hsiang-tzu once muses that even for beggars life holds far more opportunities in the city than in the countryside; urban beggars enjoy meat scraps now and then, while their rural counterparts may never savor the taste of meat. This windfall mentality makes him impatient with manual jobs such as street peddling that provide a reliable but meager income. Would it not be far better to work as a rickshaw puller, when one large tip from a wealthy customer might come to as much as a whole day’s peddling? It is not until Hsiang-tzu is too overwhelmed by his reversals to continue striving for a decent livelihood that he sees through his naivete; by this time, it is too late.

Hsiang-tzu resembles many north Chinese peasants in his stolid, taciturn manner. Unable to rely primarily on dialogue to sketch the contours of his personality and values, the author makes heavy use of interior monologue to enter the silent thoughts of Hsiang-tzu and the other major characters. The tour de force of Lao She’s mastery of unlimited omniscience and interior monologue in narration occurs during Old Liu’s grandiose celebration of his sixty-ninth birthday. Up to this time, Old Liu had favored Hsiang-tzu over all the other rickshaw men at the agency, but he grows more and more gruff as he notices his daughter flirting with Hsiang-tzu. When she decides to break the news of their engagement to Old Liu, the old man furiously berates her for having sullied the family name by chasing after a “stinking” rickshaw man. The author relates that even as Old Liu is mouthing this insult of Hsiang-tzu, Liu realizes within his heart that Hsiang-tzu is a good man. The true object of his anger is Hu Niu, who has shamed him in front of his birthday guests. Hu Niu had originally hoped to keep the love affair a secret, but she silently adjusts her strategy and lies, saying that she is already pregnant with Hsiang-tzu’s child; she anticipates shocking her father into giving his assent to the marriage. Unfortunately, Old Liu is far more stubbornly proud than she anticipated, and he lays down an ultimatum that she choose either him or Hsiang-tzu. Hu Niu calls his bluff by storming out of the agency with Hsiang-tzu in tow, even though both she and her father are inwardly reluctant to part from each other. Rarely has one episode so powerfully rendered the dissonance between the inner thoughts and outward behavior of major characters.

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