Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Camel Xiangzi, or Rickshaw Boy, by Lao She, is the story of a young Chinese orphan boy who pulls a rickshaw in Beijing. The urban setting of the story fuels the plot, as Xiangzi’s experience as a poor man in Beijing reflects the changing socioeconomic climate of China. As the poor people from the country migrated to the cities to find work, the social climate of the cities changed, heightening the class divisions and causing widespread worker oppression. Xiangzi, however, was enchanted by the city, which to him represented opportunity, money, and independence.
Xiangzi fits the stereotype of the proletarian worker. He is honest and industrious, and he has simple dreams; his dream is to buy his own rickshaw, as he is an individualist and longs to be self-sufficient. He is alone in the city, without friends, family, or money, and it is up to him and him alone to build an independent life. For a long time, he is determined to make an honest living. After a series of blows, however, he abandons his honorable intentions. As a poor working-class citizen, Xiangzi was exploited and persecuted by the ruling upper class, and thus his decline was intricately linked to the society in which he lived. Lao She, a humanitarian and a supporter of the working class citizen, conveys the idea that Xiangzi’s downfall was linked to a society that left him defeated, as it quashed every effort he made to live an honorable and independent life.