(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After Xiangzi’s parents die, he goes to the city of Beijing, bringing with him a country boy’s sturdiness and simplicity. He rents a rickshaw from Fourth Master Liu, who owns the Harmony Rickshaw-renting Yard, to make a living. Unlike the other rickshaw pullers, who are addicted to smoking, drinking, and visiting prostitutes, Xiangzi leads a decent, frugal life. His only dream is to have a rickshaw of his own. After three or four years of struggle and hardship, he saves enough money to buy a rickshaw, believing that the rickshaw will bring him freedom and independence. No sooner does he buy the rickshaw than he is drafted into the army, and his rickshaw is confiscated. Later Xiangzi escapes from the barracks during a night attack, taking with him three army camels. He sells the camels and gets back to Beijing, starting another round of saving money to buy himself a rickshaw. For his theft of the camels, he becomes known as Camel Xiangzi.

Xiangzi deposits the money he made from the sale of the camels at Fourth Master Liu’s place and works even harder. One night Fourth Master Liu’s daughter Tigress seduces him. Ashamed of himself, he leaves Liu’s place to work as a private rickshaw puller for Mr. Cao. Even so, he is repeatedly bothered by Tigress, who pretends to be pregnant. Around the same time, Ruan Ming informs the police of Mr. Cao’s socialist ideas as a revenge for Ruan Ming’s academic failure under Mr. Cao. During the police raid of Mr. Cao’s home, Xiangzi surrenders all his savings, including the camel-sale money he just got back from Tigress, to a secret policeman who is the former lieutenant Xiangzi waited on in the barracks. Tigress then takes advantage of Xiangzi’s misfortune, tricking him into marriage. As a result, Fourth Master Liu disowns his daughter for her determination to marry a penniless coolie and looks down upon Xiangzi, believing that he married Tigress for money. Xiangzi and Tigress move to a slum.

Counting on her father’s eventual forgiveness, Tigress lives an easy life on her savings. She treats Xiangzi as...

(The entire section is 848 words.)