They disrupt traffic as they zip and careen through streets, narrow lanes and even onto sidewalks. They are the vehicular avatar of the modern economy. In China’s cities, a rising middle class delights in the convenience of these wheeled workers one day and bemoans them as an urban blight the next.
The year is 1920 and the subject of controversy is the swelling numbers of rickshaw pullers clogging the streets of Beijing, Shanghai and the other rapidly developing urban areas in China.
It could just as easily describe the relationship that many of China’s city dwellers in the present have with delivery vans and shuttles that are now the backbone of the Chinese e-commerce revolution. The delivery courier has become the modern-day analog of Luotuo Xiangzi, the character Lao She made famous in his 1937 novel, Rickshaw Boy.