An analysis of the classic "Rickshaw" by Chinese literary great Lao She.

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Through telling the story of Xiangzi, Lao She's "Rickshaw" moulds a woman in Hu Niu that is the antithesis of everything that a woman should be in the traditional society of that period. In the time-honoured Chinese culture, there has long been a strong prejudice against women of power. Every unfavourable image has been linked with particularly those who have proved especially formidable. Throughout the histories that have been written by mostly men where views as traditional as Xiangzi's have been prevalent, dominant women have been presented in the most unsympathetic light.

In similar fashion, our look at the character Hu Niu is relentlessly coloured by Xiangzi's harsh narrative. It is impossible to do a light reading of "Rickshaw" and hope to be presented a face for Hu Niu that is to true to her actual person. Therefore, in order to ensure that our understanding of this distinctive woman is holistic, we must consider two issues: what sort of social influences have manipulated Xiangzi's point of view; and what is Xiangzi's innate character that so overwhelming pre-ordains the way he thinks. Only after peeling back such layers do we see a depiction of Hu Niu that is not peppered by biases. Only by doing our own commentary on the story do we hear the point of view of who is not talking and what is not being told, and that is the narrative of Hu Niu herself. What we subsequently come to realize is that, due to his wild prejudices, Xiangzi has rejected his best chance of escaping the rickshaw-puller's misfortunes when he rejects Hu Niu.

In the broader sense of the Chinese history, women who have held power have often been blamed as the cause for ruin of an entire dynasty period. Historians have, for example, always blamed the downfall of the Qing dynasty on solely Empress Cixi and her refusal to recognize the changing times around her. In a more specific sense within the context of this novel, Xiangzi presents Hu Niu as the woman who is fully to blame for causing the downfall of a man. Women who strayed away from the traits that society norms dictate are seen as abnormal. In the same way, Xiangzi's descriptions are most discriminating when revealing thoughts about any strong woman in his life, and he especially vilifies Hu Niu. This is not unlike the negative ways that dominant women like Empress Cixi and Empress Wu Zetian have been represented throughout history.

Under Confucian beliefs, it has been highly regarded the notion that the best types of women were the virtuous ones who may show maternal instincts - before they even marry - towards their younger siblings and widower fathers. There have always been deep-seated attitudes that have limited women's access to power. Patriarchy being the norm of the culture, a woman's position within her family and the social hierarchy was as a dependent, not leader, of men. The tendency has been to assign women and men different roles, and women's special reproductive functions, of course, encourage this division. Often, the sharply restricted participation of women as competitors raises questions about a female's ability to command.

In actuality, women are by nature no weaker than men. As a generalization, certainly, they may be physically slighter and their characters gentler, but this does not equate to them being fundamentally powerless, useless, hesitant, cowardly, or able to survive only by obeying men. Scientists and historians have devised systems to analyse the workings of the world that, coincidentally, protect their own interests while oppressing and dominating women: the theory of Yin and Yang, for example, was established to demonstrate that, inherently, the female sex (yin) is linked with softer elements of the world such as 'stillness', 'inwardness', or 'earth', etc., while the male (yang) is linked with much stronger elements such as 'motion', 'outwardness', 'sky'.

Commanding and opinionated women were seen to be transgressing this boundary of yin and...
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