"Lao She's great novel." --The New York Times A beautiful new translation of the classic Chinese novel from Lao She, one of the most acclaimed and popular Chinese writers of the twentieth century, Rickshaw Boy chronicles the trials and misadventures of a poor Beijing rickshaw driver. Originally published in 1937, Rickshaw Boy--and the power and artistry of Lao She--can now be appreciated by a contemporary American audience.
Xiangzi works hard and scrimps so that he can ultimately purchase his own rickshaw, rather than renting it. He is initially successful, but through a series of events loses that rickshaw. Over and over again, as Xiangzi appears about to better his life, circumstances intervene which push him to the bottom again. For the most part, he seems to accept these setbacks as his due, and he recognizes the futility of fighting back against the corruption of his society.
This was a touching book, as well as being informative and historically important. Although it involves a segment of the undersociety in 1930's China, it could just as well have been written by Zola or Dickens.
While Lao She was never a rickshaw puller, his parents were illiterate and worked menial jobs. He was well acquainted with poverty, and many of the characters and events in the book are based on people he knew in childhood. The book is written in simple prose, and ends thusly:
"Watching a skinny stray dog waiting by the sweet-potato vendor's carrying pole for some peel and rootlets, he knew that he was just like this dog, struggling for some scraps to eat. As long as he managed to keep alive, why think of anything else?"
An easy read, but fairly repetitive and obvious once you catch on to the pattern. Also sad and predictable.
This novel has been very popular in China, and is an indictment of the philosophy of individualism (per the back cover)--one man, working hard alone, is unlikely or unable to move ahead given a lack of safety net or family/friend network.