institutions in China, as Liang would suggest, cannot survive without a national understanding of humanfree will. Xiaobing continues by indicating that “the obvious form of a lack of freedom is the situation inwhich the individual is obliged to comply with an overwhelming force.”
These assertions regarding freewill, and the lack thereof, concerns Lao’s characterization of the common Beijing rickshaw puller. Hsiangchases the dream of deciding his own fate, only to frustratingly find greater social forces adding weighton the rickshaw. The narrative speaks more than the social immobility of the time, but the systematicrobbing of human dignity.The rickshaw pullers bring a unique, but effective, story to Lao’s novel since it is notthe “tableau of figures representative of Republican society,” as David Strand points out.
In other words, the subject matter shifts from the conventional focus of influential intellectuals and politiciansto an emphasis on the common people living in an age of new Chinese urbanism. The exception, asscholar Young-Tsu notes, is the absence of prostitutes.
The were not impoverished either, their incomewas “comparable to policemen.”
Lao incorporates scenes of typical Beijing lifestyles - from bustlingstreet markets to the social gatherings of teahouses. “Rickshaw pullers were joined through their work tothe basic rhythms of city life,” Strand notes, “expressed in collective activities ranging from marketingand theatergoing to political protests and panics.”
While remaining in a meager economic class, therickshaw puller is placed in a rare position to interact with their passengers, of whom are wealthy. These passengers ranged from public officials, businessmen, and tourists; all using the rickshaw as a means toavoid walks on the usually muddy unpaved roads.
It would be typical for the pullers to be aware of therumors circulating among these groups - as exemplified by Hsiang’s interactions with the Ts’ao family.In this particular instance, the rickshaw driver is caught in the middle of a police-spy investigation over suspicions of Mr. Ts’ao’s revolutionary ideology. Lao places similar frame stories to intimately conveythe plight of early communist movements, outside the context of influential historical figures.Lao places the story in Beijing by no accident whatsoever, for rickshaw pulling provided the