There are strong political overtones to both the stories. Author Lao She portrays Hsiang Tzu to be a victim of the old feudalistic order. The dire economic condition in which Tzu perpetually lives is an indictment of the anachronistic political system. Despite being very industrious, Tzu finds it tough to make ends meet. For all his efforts he cannot even claim ownership to his rickshaw – which was leased out to him till he is able to purchase it. Lao She’s message is that the Chinese people deserved a better standard of life than this. At the time of publication of the novel, Communist ideologies were being propagated subversively through literature. Rickshaw Boy is a classic example of such propaganda. The book and its hero represent the disillusionment with the old political order and the beagle call for revolution. (Hessney, 1985) The relevance of the novel is testified by the huge popular appeal of Hsiang Tzu among the Chinese. Equally important is the elevation of Lao She to the board of All China Federation of Literature and Art by the newly formed Communist government.
The indictment of the then prevailing political system is expressed through futility of effort. Its hero Hsiang Tzu is shown to be a back breaking worker. He is moreover a honest country boy who has reasonable dreams and goals. For example, he believes that buying the new rickshaw will secure him financially and boost his standing among fellow peasant class workers from Peking. Although he initially tastes some success, his dreams begin to evade just as his self-confidence does. Social ills of various kinds sap away his physical and moral strength. (Hegel, 1985, p. 349) Ah Q and Hsiang Tzu thus stand for two instances of underprivileged men forced to adapt to rapid urbanization. While Ah Q is decidedly feckless, Hsiang Tzu is sensible and politically conscious. Ah Q, for all the misery he brings upon himself is never short of opportunity for work. Hence it is easy to see Ah Q and Hsiang Tzu as two facets of emergent China. What the two characters in question essentially symbolize is the internal contradictions and dichotomies within the fledgling spirit of Chinese nationalism. These divisions were even found among the intelligentsia, who by 1925, blamed foreign imperialism
“for rural economic decline, and the image of the peasants began to improve as nationalistic Chinese came to see in the rural masses a powerful force for resisting imperialism and saving China. On the whole, it was thought that peasants needed to be mobilized by intellectuals; however, in making contact with peasants, intellectuals had difficulty overcoming the huge cultural gap created by their modern urban education, even though most were themselves originally of rural origin.” (Arkush, 2007)
In conclusion, Ah Q and Hsiang Tzu make very interesting juxtapositions in terms of their attitudes, traits and world views. Yet their backgrounds could not have been more similar. It is this similarity that lends significance to this comparative analysis. Two people who could have been brethren and whose roots are firmly sprung from Chinese soil turn out to be very different personalities.
- Arkush, R. David. “Chinese Discourses on the Peasant, 1900-1949.” The China Journal58 (2007): 260+.
- Hessney, Richard C. Expressions of Self in Chinese Literature. Ed. Robert E. Hegel. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.
- Larson, Wendy. From Ah Q to Lei Feng: Freud and Revolutionary Spirit in 20th Century China. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2009.
- Lu Xun, The True Story of Ah Q, First Published in China in 1921.
- Lao She, Rickshaw Boy, First Published in China in 1937.