The Travels of Lao Ts'an Characters

Liu E

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

T’ieh Pu-ts’an

T’ieh Pu-ts’an, known as Lao Ts’an (low sahn), a man who wanders through the North China province of Shandong as an itinerant physician. The nickname Lao Ts’an means “Old Vagabond” and fits his unconventional style of life. In his travels, he savors the special character of each place while encountering old friends and making new ones. He is regularly drawn into some human problem and finds wise, just solutions. Lao Ts’an, a vigorous, healthy man of about fifty, has no home but resides in plain inns; he is a person of modest means but disdains money. He has few possessions beyond simple cotton clothes, a few books, his medicine chest, and a string of bells used by Chinese itinerant healers to attract patients. Lao Ts’an’s humble existence hides administrative insight, considerable learning, a cultivated aesthetic sense, and a noble character. In addition to curing his patients, he helps control Yellow River flooding, exposes a ruthless official, shows a new magistrate how to suppress banditry, and prevents a miscarriage of justice. His sagacity leads others to treat him with the highest respect. Once his solutions are set in motion, Lao Ts’an leaves before he is fully thanked, to continue his wandering care for humanity.

Kao Shao-yen

Kao Shao-yen, a secretary to the governor of Shandong, who seeks Lao Ts’an’s treatment for his sick concubine. Through him, Lao Ts’an is brought to the attention of the governor.

Governor Chuang

Governor Chuang, the highest official in Shandong, who shows great favor to the apparently common medical practitioner Lao Ts’an by seeking advice and accepting his...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The picaresque novel does not focus on character development or such subtleties as motivation and alteration of character. In this respect, The Travels of Lao Ts’an follows the tradition faithfully.

Lao Ts’an is a wanderer throughout this chronicle of his travels. Although he has encountered all kinds of people, some good and some evil, they have not changed him—nor have his experiences. Throughout the narrative, he lives by exercising a code based on nobility, kindness, and consideration; this idealized personality is rounded out with intelligence, sensitivity, and artistic appreciation.

Those he meets during his travels develop only as characters with whom he shares a meal, a lodging, a conversation, or an adventure. With nothing happening to change them during the encounters, they pass out of the picture and others take their place. For example, one of the people with whom Lao Ts’an spends the most time is Jen-jui, a government official with a sense of humor and a taste for opium. It is he who arranges the marriage, almost as a practical joke, between Lao Ts’an and Huan-ts’ui, the prostitute they had agreed to rescue. Huan-ts’ui plays the helpless girl in distress, often in tears, but once married, she fades into the background. Mrs. Chia Wei, falsely accused of murder, provides the focus for one of the fuller adventures, but as a character she does not surpass her original status as a wronged woman. Villains such as Prefect Yu also do not reform.