This is a fictional account of a young Chinese English teacher, nicknamed Moby, and his older Australian friend, retired journalist, Wilson. Their story begins in Sydney in 1986, when Moby is billetted at Wilson's house, and ends in Beijing in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Moby's understanding of the Australian, and particularly the Chinese-Australian, way of life slowly develops during his year in Sydney, refining his skills as an English teacher. His own family life in Beijing is presented by way of letters from his wife, who anxiously awaits the birth of her brother's first child. Her fears of how her brother would react if the child is a girl, become a reality. The personal tragedies caused by the one-child policy make a disconcerting continuity with the family tragedies resultant from the Cultural Revolution. Interwoven into their adventures and misadventures in Sydney and Beijing are analysis and commentary provided by the 16th century Chinese scholar, Wu Cheng-en and the heroes of his epic Journey to the West.
Scholar Wu, who is cast as the narrator of Tigers, uses classical Chinese folk stories and legends to illustrate moral principles and cultural behaviours which are challenged by the circumstances in which Moby and Wilson find themselves. Wu Cheng-en's heroes -- the priest Tripitaka and his companions -- argue the merits of how Moby, Wilson and the people among whom they live and work in Sydney and Beijing live out their roles.