This analysis of the social and political transformations which took place in Beijing during a period of chaos and revolution examines the processes by which Chinese people of different classes were drawn into political participation and developed a political consciousness.
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University of California Press
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RICKSHAW by LAO SHE
The protagonist in this novel is Hsiang Tzu who leaves the village to live in Peking once his parents die and he is orphaned. He encounters many challenges as an outsider coming to the big city. Hsiang Tzu is large and strong like the camel hence the title of the book. This big young man figures he is strong enough to pull a rickshaw and sets out to put himself in the position of buying his own buggy. Because he is big, strong and able to run fast, Hsiang Tzu makes a success out of this business. Soon he is able to buy his own rickshaw after working at the Jen Ho rickshaw agency and risks his safety by taking a passenger outside the city limits. After being captured by soldiers and grabbing several camels in a turn- around move, the young man unloads the camels for just a few coins. This reveals one of the messages of the novel: man strives to survive and grow as an individual, only to be beaten down by life in a big city. The poor uneducated young man is duped many times and looses more money than he makes while meeting a variety of types among the lower classes. He is duped into marrying the daughter of the Jen Ho agency and experiences degradation and ruin, finally dying in the snow. Individualism and the fight of each man to survive in an economically difficult time pervade the story. Fate seems to control many of the characters, not the least of which is Hsiang Tzu.
I really enjoyed reading this novel and particularly enjoyed the author's style of writing. I just wish I could read this in the original Chinese to absorb all the subtle nuances of language. The protagonist was an admirable sort, even though he was not an educated individual. Hsiang Tzu had a working conscience and a set of values that guided his decisions even though the decisions were sometimes not in his own best interest. There are scenes where the descriptions were so real, the reader could close his eyes and paint the scene. One such scene was the snowy night where Detective Sun followed Hsiang Tzu, when H. T. went into a 'puller's' teahouse to wait for his employer. Actually, the entire novel was filled with snippets that stick in my memory. Lao She reminds me of Charles Dickens or Dostoevsky in the way he treats his characters and paints the city as though it breathes life.
Labor Movements and Local Politics in the Republic of China
Through a highly detailed account of city life David Strand discusses the emergence of mass politics in 1920's Beijing. While informative and at times insightful, the reader often feels as if they are being led along winding back alleys in the embarrassing comfort of a slow moving rickshaw. Strand illustrates the important development of local governance, mass political movements, and street level politics throughout this formative period. He simultaneously manages to deconstruct the myth of an apolitical Chinese population ripe of communist propaganda, and instead shows us a politically active and well informed polis resistant to "flawed concepts and amateur efforts" (Strand p286).