Hsiang-tzu starts the story as an optimist who is capable of hard work and wants to find a way to live in the city. He is an orphan without any connections but has the ability to work hard:
With a rickshaw of his own he need no longer take the guff of the rickshaw owners, and there would be no need for lengthy explanations to any one else: with his own natural strength and his own rickshaw, he had only to keep his eyes open and he would have food to eat.
He does not have large aspirations. He does not want to be rich or powerful. He just wants to have a good life for himself in the city that fascinated him. He is more capable of that than the other rickshaw coolies because of his disposition:
He was not afraid of hardship, nor did he have the bad habit that many rickshaw coolies had of condoning faults without making any effort to correct them: his mind and energy were both adequate to the task of turning his aspirations into facts.
Unfortunately, hard work is not enough for Hsiang-tzu. He loses his rickshaw when the military takes it away from him and forces him to work for them. When he escapes, he decides to take camels with him and sell them for a rickshaw.
Camels were strong, and they ate less than horses or donkeys. He didn't hope to find a hundred and fifty ounces of silver, but only that he would be able to get eighty or a hundred dollars for them—just enough to buy a rickshaw.
Ultimately, though, it is not quite enough for him to purchase a new rickshaw. He has to keep working to continue saving money. Again and again, though, he loses his opportunities to work for himself. His nest egg is seized, and he marries Tigress, the domineering daughter of his boss.
Hsiang-tzu is not always the author of his own faults, at least in the beginning. Eventually, though, despair changes him into a different man. He becomes willing to bend the rules and work in more shady ways...
(The entire section is 548 words.)