Discussion Topic

Elements and plot structure of Ha Jin's "Saboteur"


In Ha Jin's "Saboteur," the plot structure follows a traditional arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The story begins with Mr. Chiu, a university professor, being wrongfully arrested. Tension escalates as he endures mistreatment. The climax occurs when he decides to exact revenge by spreading hepatitis. The resolution reveals the widespread infection, highlighting the consequences of systemic corruption and injustice.

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What are the elements of Ha Jin's story "Saboteur"?

The basic elements of a good story are character, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. When all of these elements are explored in an interesting and imaginative way, the reader will have a satisfying reading experience. The short story "Saboteur" by Ha Jin is an example of how literary elements can combine to create a fascinating literary moment.

The story centers on Mr. Chiu, a professor traveling with his bride on their honeymoon to the province of Muji. Mr. Chiu, who has recently been ill with hepatitis, is having lunch with his wife while waiting for their train home . Whether accidental or on purpose, two policemen throw tea at the couple's feet. Mr. Chiu is outraged and demands an apology. However, the policemen accuse Mr. Chiu himself of creating the disturbance and arrest him for sabotage.

The characterization here is dramatic because we see a juxtaposition between Mr. Chiu, a member of the intelligentsia, and the arrogant and powerful policemen. Although the story takes place after the Cultural Revolution, and there is an ostensible equality in China, we see that police power still prevails.

The conflict in the story is that Mr. Chiu refuses to sign an affidavit declaring his innocence. As a professor and member of a university community, Mr. Chiu is a man unused to this type of treatment and unfairness. As he says himself, "Don't mistake me for a common citizen who would tremble . . . I'm a scholar, a philosopher, and an expert in dialectical materialism."

The conflict is exacerbated when a young lawyer who comes to help Mr. Chiu is himself tortured. Therefore, Mr. Chiu must capitulate and sign the declaration of guilt in order to free himself and the lawyer. We see that the conflict for Mr. Chiu in having to give up his convictions has been enormous. The narrator tells us,

If he were able to, he would have razed the police station and eliminated all their families. Though he knew he could do nothing like that, he made up his mind to do something.

The resolution to this story, while shocking, is fascinating in its presentation to the reader. The "something" that Mr. Chiu decides to do as revenge for his horrible mistreatment leaves the reader stunned. Mr. Chiu, who we remember had hepatitis, goes to several restaurants upon his release and eats out of several bowls.

The last lines of the story tell us,

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.

Along with the elements that make a good story, there are also other literary components that can make the story richer and more thought-provoking. In the case of "Saboteur," it is irony that makes the story intriguing. If we have done a close reading, we will remember that Mr. Chiu's university paper was entitled "The Nature of Contradictions." In other words, Mr. Chiu himself is a contradiction, in that he does indeed become a saboteur.

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What is the plot structure of "Saboteur" by Ha Jin?

“Saboteur” by Ha Jin takes place immediately after the Cultural Revolution has been declared over.  Mr. Chiu, a college professor, is anxious to return to his school and catch up on his work.  At this time, Chiu optimistically believes that the police can be trusted.


Mr. Chiu, the protagonist, and his bride are sitting in a train station in Muji City waiting to return home after their honeymoon trip. They are eating outside at a table. Nearby are two railroad policemen who are drinking tea and laughing.  The couple is enjoying the pleasant afternoon.

Rising action

One of the policemen gets up and throws a cup of tea in the couple’s direction.  It gets all over their feet and ruins Mr. Chiu’s new leather shoes. 

Mr. Chiu accosts the policeman telling him what he has done. The policemen handcuff Chiu; in addition, the policeman puts his gun on Chiu while his wife watches begging for his safety. 

They take Chiu down to the police station and place him in a jail cell. Mr. Chiu was not afraid; consequently, he lay down on the cot and closed his eyes.  Later, he was taken to an interrogation room; on the way, he was roughed up by a passing policeman. 

During the interrogation, Chiu makes no progress with the interrogator. With both sides throwing insults back and forth, Chiu winds up back in the cell forced to spend two nights until Monday morning.   Chiu had recently had a serious case of hepatitis. Because of this, he has to watch his diet.  After the food that night in the jail, his stomach felt like the fire of anger from before. 

He told the jailer that he was sick, but nothing happened.  Imprisoned without proper medical attention, Chiu, in fragile health, deteriorates rapidly.

Furthering the action

On Sunday, everything was quiet and restful.  He did not even really miss his bride.

On Monday morning, Chiu could hear someone moaning.  He went to the window and saw a young man chained to a tree.  The man was swearing, but no one was paying any attention to him.

Chiu recognized him as a young lawyer that has been sent by his wife. Chiu watches as the policeman torture the lawyer. 


Finally, Chiu is taken before the magistrate. All he has to do is sign a prepared confession, and he is free to go. 

‘What if I refuse to cooperate?’

‘Then your lawyer will continue his education in the sunshine. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to write out your self-criticism.  We have your crime described clearly here.  All we need is your signature.’

He agreed to sign it if he and his lawyer were set free.  By the time everything is done, Chiu is almost doubled over with sickness. 

Falling action

Chiu apologizes to the lawyer for his mistreatment. As soon as the two men walk out of the jail,
Chiu buys some hot tea.  In his bitterness, disillusionment, frustration, and rage, and with his hepatitis “finally attacking him,” Chiu makes “up his mind to do something” for revenge Chiu went from restaurant to restaurant buying a soup.  

All of the restaurants were near the police station.  He ate noodles and wontons. As he ate, Chiu mumbled that he wished that he could kill all of them.  The lawyer did not understand why Chiu was behaving in this way. 


After about a month, it was reported that acute hepatitis had hit the city of Muja.  Six had died from the disease, including two children.  Over eight hundred people had contracted the disease.  No one knew how the epidemic was started. 

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