In Chinese names, the last name is always written first. Thus, at the end of the novel, we discover that we have the House of Wang, not the House of Lung. Also in China, it was a rather common habit to refer to a person by his profession or rank. Wang was often referred to as "Wang, the farmer," as when he was greeted by Cuckoo upon his initial visit to the tea house. And, finally, many characters are not named but are designated by their relationship to one another, such as Wang Lung's uncle's son.
Wang Lung The Chinese farmer who rises from a peasant farmer, struggling for a living, to become the head of the powerful House of Wang.
O-lan The wife whom he bought from the House of Hwang and who serves him diligently until her death.
Wang Lung's Father An elderly man at the beginning of the book who serves mainly to show how the elderly are respected and treated.
Wang Lung's Uncle A lazy and vicious man whom Wang Lung resents, but, according to custom, he must take him into his house because he is a paternal relative.
The Uncle's Wife A fat and overbearing gossip who has no control over her children. She makes the arrangements for Lotus Flower to become Wang Lung's concubine.
The Uncle's Son He introduces Wang Lung's eldest son to prostitutes and later tries to seduce Wang Lung's daughter.
Eldest Son (Nung En) Wang Lung takes him from the fields and educates him; ironically, the son later feels contempt for the land.
Second Son (Nung Wen) He is also given an education, but he uses his knowledge in order to increase the wealth of the House of Wang.
Third Son An unusually quiet boy who also demands an education; he later joins one of the revolutionary armies.
Eldest Daughter ("poor fool") Wang Lung often refers to his eldest daughter as his "poor fool" because she was born just prior to the famine and, as a result, never developed mentally.
Youngest Daughter Wang Lung's prettiest daughter whom he must place in the house of her betrothed in order to keep the uncle's son from her.
Lotus Flower A prostitute in a tea house who captivates Wang Lung; he later purchases her as his concubine.
Cuckoo Originally, she lived with the Old Lord in the House of Hwang; later, she came to the House of Wang as a servant to Lotus.
Pear Blossom A young slave bought during a famine. She prefers the quiet ardors of old men to the fiery passions of young men.
Ching Wang Lung's neighbor who sells his land and becomes the trusted overseer of Wang Lung's lands.
Liu The grain merchant whom the second son works for and who will provide a wife for the eldest Wang son. He also accepts Wang Lung's youngest daughter for his son's wife.
Yang An ugly prostitute who is visited by Wang Lung's eldest son.
The Old Lord Hwang and the Old Mistress Hwang Through his concubines and her addiction to opium, these two people represent the decadence of the rich.