Rickshaw recounts the story of a self-assured young rickshaw puller’s arduous struggle for a gratifying and secure livelihood. Hsiang-tzu, the orphaned protagonist, is only eighteen years old when he abandons the drudgery of life in his native north Chinese village and treks to Peking, the nearest large city. Enchanted by the variety and splendor of the urban panorama, Hsiang-tzu realizes that he has finally found the abode of his dreams; he can never go back to the monotony of plowing fields in the countryside.
Determined to achieve the self-reliance that owning a rickshaw might provide, Hsiang-tzu pulls rickshaws rented from the Jen Ho agency over a period of three years, until he finally saves up the one hundred dollars required to purchase one. He continues to reside at the agency when not working stints as a private chauffeur, for the agency’s proprietors, Old Liu and his firebrand daughter Hu Niu, have taken a fancy to the strapping young lad with the countrified airs.
Trouble shatters Hsiang-tzu’s dreams one day when warlord soldiers are campaigning just outside the city gates of central Peking. Turning a deaf ear to tales about the military having impressed townsmen into the army and confiscated their wares, Hsiang-tzu impetuously agrees to take a high-paying customer outside the city gates to the northwestern suburbs. Along the way, a band of soldiers does indeed swoop down on Hsiang-tzu to confiscate his rickshaw and force him into servitude as a coolie. Taking advantage of the uproar during a nighttime attack on the soldiers’ encampment later that month, Hsiang-tzu deserts and cannily leads three of the army’s...
(The entire section is 681 words.)