Camel Xiangzi was first published serially in Yuzhou feng (cosmic wind) from September, 1936, to May, 1937. It was first translated into English by Evan King in 1945. The first English version was titled Rickshaw Boy, an apt title that reveals the intimate relationship between Xiangzi and the rickshaw. To own a rickshaw of his own seems to Xiangzi to be a moderate and practical ambition. Like a white bird gliding above the dark crows, the dream of owning his own rickshaw keeps Xiangzi’s hope alive. Xiangzi’s dream also helps him to maintain moral integrity and drives him to seek beauty even in the manner of pulling a rickshaw. Xiangzi does not comprehend that in his unjust society any effort to accomplish an idealistic goal is a joke. The degree of Xiangzi’s demoralization corresponds to his repeated deprivation of a rickshaw. Whenever he tries to pull himself up, the dream of keeping a rickshaw fades. The death of his dream reduces Xiangzi to a living dead man. Lao She conveys the importance of holding on to one’s dream, even if it is delusional.
The title of the novel, Camel Xiangzi, conveys another important theme: the degradation of an individual. The theft of the camels marks Xiangzi’s first spiritual lapse. Xiangzi has justification for his theft of the three army camels in the confiscation of his rickshaw, but his adultery with Tigress destroys his self-respect and leads to his subsequent moral downfall. According to the tenets of naturalism, and this novel may be considered naturalistic, Xiangzi’s downfall is not his individual responsibility but that of the...
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