Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Mr. Chiu Maguang
Mr. Chiu is the protagonist of the story; he is a lecturer at Harbin University who teaches and publishes papers. He is also a Communist Party member. He recently suffered a bout of acute hepatitis and has just gotten married. He is wrongfully arrested by the police after they accuse him of sabotage. While he is being held in prison, his hepatitis begins to flare back up. He becomes very sick, but the police refuse him treatment. After some reflection, he tries to think about his few days in prison with as much positivity as possible. He even finds himself relatively well-rested despite the increased severity of his illness. In order for the police to release him, Mr. Chiu must sign a confession that falsely states he disrupted public order and disobeyed police. Finally out of prison after a few days, he decides to leverage his disease as a weapon against the totalitarian communist state. He eats at several restaurants while actively contagious with hepatitis, causing an outbreak that impacts hundreds of people.
Mr. Chiu's Bride
In the story, Mr. Chiu's bride remains unnamed. She appears at the beginning of the story only, and her character only receives surface attention. She is a recent college graduate and studied fine arts. The narrator implies that she is young and naive, therefore she has never seen an arrest happen.
The Police Officers
The officers arrest Mr. Chiu for supposedly disturbing the public peace. In reality, the altercation between Mr. Chiu and the officers originated from the provoking actions of an officer, who threw the hot contents of a tea cup onto the feet of Mr. Chiu and his bride. The actions of the police officers highlight the corrupt power structure in place after the Cultural Revolution. They continually mistreat Mr. Chiu and even refuse him medical treatment.
The Head of the Interrogation Bureau
In the story, the chief remains unnamed. He represents the faceless state apparatus that oppresses the populace. He is described as a slender, bald man who appears “serene.” His physical appearance gives off an aura of intelligent aloofness, and he is quite detached from the moral or ethical impact of his actions. In addition, he and the other law enforcement personnel do not care about being found out; they will simply call anything they disagree with “fiction.” He and the officers gaslight Mr. Chiu until he has little choice but to admit to a crime he did not commit.
Fenjin is a recent law graduate from Harbin University and a former student of Mr. Chiu Maguang. Fenjin was enrolled in Mr. Chiu's course on Marxist materialism. In the story, Fenjin tries to rescue Mr. Chiu but is beaten badly as a result. He is handcuffed to a tree, slapped, and doused in water during a scorching hot day. To save himself and Fenjin, Mr. Chiu signs a self-incriminatory statement. When he and Mr. Chiu are released, he is puzzled by Mr. Chiu’s insistence that they eat at so many different restaurants. Fenjin begins to see his teacher as “ugly,” presumably a symbolic distaste for Mr. Chiu’s intentional spread of hepatitis.