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Rickshaw Boy

by She Lao

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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400547,975 (3.78)38
"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.… (more)

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Showing 4 of 4
What a cynical, hateful book. As soon as any positive trait or event is dangled out in the story you can place sure money the author will soon get busy trampling it down to ruin. This happens so often and consistently that it's hard not to suspect the author of taking a kind of bitter, gleeful pleasure in grinding everything good down into misery and failure. Nor is this the somber bleakness of a Joyce Carol Oates novel, which at least have a measure of dignity and consistency to their gloom.

In a crowning touch of jaded irony the author has chosen to name the main character "Happy Boy"/"Lucky Lad". Great.

The attempt to reverse the negative tone of the entire book with three positive sentences at the end is hardly convincing. It merely leaves one expecting yet another chapter in which the lingering positivity is quickly struck down in debasement. (CORRECTION - the happy ending was an unauthorized change by the translators in the first edition. Well, at least the original stayed true to form up to the end...)

Let's top this off with a quote from the end of the first chapter. (what else can you expect with this kind of foreshadowing?)

"But most bright hopes come to strange and bitter endings, and Happy Boy's were no exception to the rule."

Sure, it's capably written. But to what end if it's so unpleasant, not just in material, but in the spirit of how the story is told? Ugh.

(From Wikipedia)
In an afterword dated September, 1954, included in the Foreign Languages Press edition of Rickshaw Boy, Lao She said that he had edited the manuscript ("taken out some of the coarser language and some unnecessary descriptions") and he expressed regret for the lack of hope expressed in the original edition.

Right-o. A bit late or that.
( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
This deceptively simple book Rickshaw Boy by Lao She (1899-1966) is a classic of Chinese literature. According to the helpful introduction by translator Howard Goldblatt, Lao She was a prolific writers of plays, short stories and novels, and his status as one of the most widely read and best beloved Chinese authors is all the more remarkable given his humble beginnings. His father was a lowly palace guard for the emperor when he was killed during the Boxer rebellion in 1900, plunging the family into dire poverty, which influenced Lao She for the rest of his life.

Despite disruption to his education due to financial difficulties, he was able to graduate from Beijing Normal University and, became a teacher, eventually making his way to the University of London where he taught Chinese from 1924-1929. He read voraciously and became a great admirer of Dickens, whose devotion to the urban downtrodden and use of ironic humour Lao She found particularly affecting; they would inform much of his own work, particularly the early novels and stories. He wrote his first three novels in London, and continued writing when he returned to China, mostly writing stories which critiqued the malaise which inhibited development in China and made it vulnerable to foreign incursions. During what became a turbulent period in Chinese history, his belief in the Confucian ideal of individual moral integrity, shifted as he began to doubt that individual heroism could be of any use in a generally corrupt society. Yes, hard on the heels of Barnard Eldershaw's Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow which posited the hopelessness of individual effort to achieve social mobility or even to keep one's head above water, I read Rickshaw Boy which has the same political and moral message: that individualism is bankrupt in the face of a corrupting and dehumanising social system.

But where the Barnard Eldershaw novel expounded the message in 400+ pages of sledgehammer polemics, the simplicity and elegance of Rickshaw Boy is a different reading experience altogether. Its central character is an orphaned rural labourer who comes to Beijing (called Beiping in the novel) determined to better himself. Despite his poverty Xiangzi is the embodiment of the Confucian man of virtue: he beggars himself to dress neatly and to rent the smartest of rickshaws; he offers superior service; he is as classy as a rickshaw boy can be to get the work he wants so that he can buy his own rickshaw and be financially independent. Never at any time are the disasters which befall him his fault.

If you aren't already feeling uneasy about the cover image on this book, the descriptions of Xiangzi pulling his rickshaw through all kinds of terrible weather and at the mercy of his customers, will make you realise how degrading this form of human exploitation is. In the beginning Xiangzi pities the older men, never imagining that he will be old before his time too:
Xiangzi was not heedless of the wretched condition of the old, frail rickshaw men whose clothes were so tattered, a light wind blew through them and a strong one tore them to shreds. Their feet were wrapped in rags. They waited, shivering in the cold, at rickshaw stands, wanting to be first to shout "Rickshaw!" when a prospective fare approached. Running warmed them up and soaked their tattered clothes in sweat, which froze as soon as they stopped. Strong winds nearly stopped them in their tracks. When the wind came from above, they ducked their heads down into their chests; wind gusting up from below nearly knocked them off their feet. They dared not raise their heads in a headwind, to keep from turning into kites, and when the wind was at their backs, they lost control of both their rickshaws and themselves. They tried every trick they knew, used every ounce of energy they possessed, to pull their rickshaws to their destination, nearly killing themselves for a few coins. After each trip, their faces were coated with dust mixed with sweat, through which poked three frozen red circles—two eyes and mouth. Few people were out on the streets during the short, cold days of winter, and a day of running might not bring in enough for one good meal. And yet the older men had wives and children at home, while the younger ones had parents and siblings. For these men, winters were sheer torture... (p.95)
Summer is equally perilous, on days when the torrid heat means no one should be doing hard physical labour of this kind.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/11/23/rickshaw-boy-by-lao-she-translated-by-howard... ( )
  anzlitlovers | Nov 23, 2019 |
Xiangzi is a country boy who moves to Beiping (Beijing). He works as a rickshaw puller, and through hard work, saving, clean living, and honesty, he plans to save until he can buy his own rickshaw and eventually own a rickshaw stand. Despite his best efforts, he is thwarted every time he starts to get ahead, through no fault of his own, and eventually gives up his grand dreams, and then his basic dreams as well.

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. ( )
  Dreesie | Jan 24, 2018 |
This classic of modern Chinese literature is the story of the life of Xiangzi, who comes to Beijing as a youth, hoping to make his fortune as a rickshaw boy. More universally, it is the story of a life of poverty and the difficulties of overcoming the hardships and inequities that afflict the poor in most societies.

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?"

Highly recommended. ( )
3 vote arubabookwoman | Oct 13, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lao, Sheprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kwok-kan TamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shi XiaojingTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"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.

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