Last Updated on September 5, 2023, 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 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.