Places: Camel Xiangzi

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Luotuo Xiangzi, 1936-1937 (serial), 1939 (book; English translation, 1945)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Naturalism

Time of work: 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Beijing (Peking)

*Beijing Camel Xiangzi (Peking) (bay-zhing). Present-day and historical capital of China. At the time of Lao She’s story, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government moved the national capital southward to Nanjing (Nanking), and Beijing (northern capital) was renamed “Beiping” (northern peace). Readers consulting the several translations of this work may be confused by different renderings of this and other place names, but all refer to known places in and around Beijing. Most of the novel takes place in the section of Beijing west of the Forbidden City in the northern walled section where Lao She lived as a boy.

Much of the book takes place on the streets of Beijing where Xiangzi (Hsiang-tzu in earlier editions) contends with the vagaries of Beijing’s weather, interference by police, and the aggravation of traffic. Hard, sweaty work punctuates the boredom of waiting for fares at rickshaw stands or teahouses. Indeed working in the streets, Xiangzi is separated from the private lives of both the poor and the rich.

Rickshaw yard

Rickshaw yard. Place adjacent to a section where many large residences of Qing elite families live side-by-side with more modest dwellings of ordinary Manchu bannermen. The large, but not palatial houses in which Xiangzi served as regular employee were found in narrow alleys (hutong) of this section and were surrounded by high blackish-gray brick walls entered through stout wooden gates.

BibliographyBirch, Cyril. “Lao She: The Humorist in His Humor.” China Quarterly 8 (1961): 51-55. An insightful discussion of Lao She’s humor and Chaplinesque characterization.Hsia, C. T. A History of Modern Chinese Fiction. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971. Contains a survey of Lao She and his fiction. Lucid and comprehensive; an excellent introduction to a serious study of Camel Xiangzi.Kao, George, ed. Two Writers and the Cultural Revolution: Lao She and Chen Jo-hsi. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1980. Contains five pieces translated from Lao She’s fiction as well as several critical essays. Sheds light on Lao She’s life and literary career in England and America. Examines the cause of Lao She’s suicide in 1966. Includes a brief summary of the Western reception of Camel Xiangzi.Lau, Joseph. “Naturalism in Modern Chinese Fiction.” Literature East and West 2 (1970): 148-160. Discusses the naturalist dimension of Camel Xiangzi, attributing Xiangzi’s downfall to his social environment.Vohra, Ranbir. Lao She and the Chinese Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University, 1974. A chronological study of Lao She’s life and works, with bibliography, notes, and index. Discusses Lao She’s childhood and political development in the 1920’s and his artistic maturity and theme of alienation in the 1930’s. Analyzes Lao She’s humor and treatment of women characters.Wang, David Der-wei. Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China: Mao Dun, Lao She, She Congwen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. The fourth chapter is devoted to the study of Lao She’s fiction. Deals with the formal structure of Camel Xiangzi, focusing on the melodramatic and farcical aspects of the story. A good study of Lao She.
Categories: Places