Camel Xiangzi Summary
Hsiang-tzu dreams of owning a rickshaw so that he can be economically successful in the city. The price of a rickshaw is so high that it is difficult for him to afford it. Still, the novel introduces him as a thoughtful, dynamic young man who is willing to sacrifice to achieve his dreams. This is in contrast to the men he works with in the city; each of them are more interested in spending their money than planning for the future.
Once he owns his own rickshaw, Hsiang-tzu still is not able to completely achieve his dreams. Things out of his control keep getting in the way. For example, he is forced to work for soldiers. He has to run a rickshaw for them after they take the one he saved to purchase. Though he steals camels from them—earning the nickname Camel Hsiang-tzu in the process—he still does not make enough to purchase the new conveyance.
As he works toward purchasing a new rickshaw, he abandons the ideals he had when he first came to the city. He is no longer the kind and respectful young man he used to be. Instead, he is willing to do whatever it takes to make enough money to get back to where he was before he was kidnapped. He loses his savings when his employer's house is raided by the police but still manages to buy another rickshaw with his wife's money.
That rickshaw is sold once Hsiang-tzu's wife dies in childbirth. The only way he can afford to bury her and their child is to sell it and use the money. He slides deeper into depression and does not live the positive kind of life that he hoped to live when he first came into the city. When he finally feels like attempting to be positive again, he secures jobs for himself and his former neighbor—a woman he loved—with his old boss. Unfortunately, that neighbor was forced into prostitution, and she killed herself. This is the final straw for Hsiang-tzu. He abandons the ideals he used to hold dear and lives out his life shiftless, irresponsible, and dishonest.
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 camels away with him. Though he sells them for merely one-third of what his rickshaw had cost him, rumors about Hsiang-tzu’s remarkably adroit caper spread like wildfire when he returns to the rickshaw agency in Peking; his fellow rickshaw men even dub him “Camel Hsiang-tzu"(which is the title of the novel in the original Chinese version). Yet Hsiang-tzu takes no solace in this...
(The entire section is 1,889 words.)