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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249

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.

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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.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 228

*Beijing (Peking)

*Beijing (Peking) (bay-zhing). Present-day and historical capital of China. At the time of Lao She’s story, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government moved the national capital southward to Nanjing (Nanking), and Beijing (northern capital) was renamed “Beiping” (northern peace). Readers consulting the several translations of this work may be confused by different renderings of this and other place names, but all refer to known places in and around Beijing. Most of the novel takes place in the section of Beijing west of the Forbidden City in the northern walled section where Lao She lived as a boy.

Much of the book takes place on the streets of Beijing where Xiangzi (Hsiang-tzu in earlier editions) contends with the vagaries of Beijing’s weather, interference by police, and the aggravation of traffic. Hard, sweaty work punctuates the boredom of waiting for fares at rickshaw stands or teahouses. Indeed working in the streets, Xiangzi is separated from the private lives of both the poor and the rich.

Rickshaw yard

Rickshaw yard. Place adjacent to a section where many large residences of Qing elite families live side-by-side with more modest dwellings of ordinary Manchu bannermen. The large, but not palatial houses in which Xiangzi served as regular employee were found in narrow alleys (hutong) of this section and were surrounded by high blackish-gray brick walls entered through stout wooden gates.


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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274

Birch, Cyril. “Lao She: The Humorist in His...

(The entire section contains 751 words.)

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