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Title: Rickshaws  
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Subject: History of Hong Kong, Jhelum, Firozabad, Cavenagh Bridge, Butwal, Cooch Behar, History of Beijing, Bhalwari
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Main article: Rickshaw

A pulled rickshaw (or ricksha) is a mode of human-powered transport by which a runner draws a two-wheeled cart which seats one or two persons.

In recent times the use of human-powered rickshaws has been discouraged or outlawed in many countries due to concern for the welfare of rickshaw workers.[1] Pulled rickshaws have been replaced mainly by cycle rickshaw and auto rickshaws.


Main article: Rickshaw

Rickshaws are commonly believed to have been invented in Japan in the 1860s, at the beginning of a rapid period of technical advancement.[2][3] In the 19th century, rickshaw pulling became an inexpensive, popular mode of transportation across Asia.[2]

Peasants who migrated to large Asian cities often worked first as a rickshaw runner.[4][5] It was "the deadliest occupation in the East, [and] the most degrading for human beings to pursue."[5][nb 1]

The rickshaw's popularity in Japan declined by the 1930s with the advent of automated forms of transportation, like automobiles and trains. In China, the rickshaw's popularity began to decline in the 1920s.[4][6] In Singapore, the rickshaws popularity increased into the 20th century. There were approximately 50,000 rickshaws in 1920 and that number doubled by 1930.[7]


The initial rickshaws rode on iron-shod wooden wheels and the passenger sat on hard, flat seats. In the late 19th century and early 20th century. Rubber or pneumatic rubber tires, spring cushions, and backrests improved the passenger's comfort. Other features, such as lights were also added.[8]

In the city of Shanghai, public rickshaws were painted yellow to differentiate from the private vehicles of the wealthy citizens, which were described as:

... always shiny, were carefully maintained, and sported 'a spotless white upholstered double seat, a clean plaid for one's lap, and a wide protective tarpaulin to protect the passenger (or passengers, since sometimes up to three people rode together) against the rain.'[9]

The rickshaws were a convenient means of travel, able to traverse winding, narrow city streets. During monsoon season, passengers might be carried out of the carriage, above the flooded streets, to the door of their arrival. They offered door-to-door travel, unlike scheduled public bus and tram service.[8]

Country overview


East Africa

In the 1920s, it was used in Bagamoyo, Tanga, Tanzania and other areas of East Africa for short distances.[10]


Rickshaws, known as pousse-pousse, were introduced by British missionaries. The intention was to eliminate the slavery-associated palanquin. Its name pousse-pousse, meaning push-push, is reportedly gained from the need to have a second person to push the back of the rickshaw on Madagascar's hilly roads. They are a common form of transport in a number of Malagasy cities, especially Antsirabe, but are not found in the towns or cities with very hilly roads.[11] They are similar to Chinese rickshaws and are often brightly decorated.[12][13]


Rickshaws operated in Nairobi in the beginning of the 20th century; pullers went on strike there in 1908.[14]

South Africa

Durban is famous for its iconic Zulu rickshaw pullers navigating throughout the city. These colorful characters are famous for their giant, vibrant hats and costumes. There were about 2,000 registered men who pulled rickshaws in Durban in 1904; Since displaced by motorised transport, there are approximately 25 rickshaws left whom mostly cater to tourists today.[15][16]



In China, the rickshaw (pronounced renliche in Chinese) was first seen in 1886 and was used for public transportation in 1898. It was commonly called dongyanche for Japanese vehicle or "east- foreign-vehicle."[2][17]

Rickshaw transportation was an important element in urban development in 20th century China, as a mode of transportation, source of employment and facilitation of migration for workers. According to author David Strand:

Sixty thousand men took as many as a half million fares a day in a city of slightly more than one million. Sociologist Li Jinghan estimated that one out of six males in the city between the ages of sixteen and fifty was a puller. Rickshaw men and their dependents made up almost 20 percent of Beijing's population.[18]

Shanghai's rickshaw industry began in 1874 with 1,000 rickshaws imported from Japan. By 1914 there were 9,718 vehicles. The pullers were a large group of the city's working poor: 100,000 men pulled rickshaws by the early 1940s, up from 62,000 in the mid-1920s.[19]

Most manual rickshaws, a symbol of oppression of the working class,[20] were eliminated in China after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Hong Kong

Rickshaws were first imported to Hong Kong from Japan in 1880. They were a popular form of transport for many years, peaking at more than 3,000 in the 1920s. However, their popularity waned after World War II. No new licenses for rickshaws have been issued since 1975, and only a few old men—four as of 2009[21]—still bear a license. It is reported that only one of them still offer rickshaw rides on The Peak, mainly for tourists.[22]


Around 1880, rickshaws appeared in India, first in Simla.[23] At the turn of the century it was introduced in Kolkata (Calcutta), India and in 1914 was a conveyance for hire.[2]

Service availability

Though most cities offer auto rickshaw service, hand-pulled rickshaws do exist in some areas, such as Kolkata,[24] "the last bastion of human powered tana rickshaws".[25][nb 2] According to Trillin, most Kolkata rickshaws serve people "just a notch above poor" who tend to travel short distances. However, in a recent article by Hyrapiet and Greiner,[29] the authors found that rickshaws also transport middle-class residents who use their services out of convenience and for short distance trips to the local marketplace. Rickshaws are used to transport goods, shoppers, and school children.[nb 3] It is also used as a "24 hour ambulance service."[27] Also according to Hyrapiet and Greiner, rickshaw pullers have acted as peer-educators for the Calcutta Samaritans prodving critical information on HIV/AIDS because of their access to marginalized groups within Kolkata's red light districts.

Rickshaws are the most effective means of transportation through the flooded streets of the monsoon season.[25] When Kolkata floods rickshaw business increases and prices rise.[30][nb 4]

The pullers live a life of poverty and many sleep under rickshaws.[25] Rudrangshu Mukerjee, an academic, stated many people's ambivalent feelings about riding a rickshaw: he does not like about being carried in a rickshaw but does not like the idea of "taking away their livelihood."[1]

Motor vehicles are banned in the eco-sensitive zone area of Matheran, India, a tourist hill station near Mumbai so man-pulled rickshaws are still one of the major forms of transport there.


In August 2005, the Communist government of West Bengal announced plans to completely ban pulled rickshaws, resulting in protests and strikes of the pullers.[31] In 2006, the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, announced that pulled rickshaws would be banned and that rickshaw pullers would be rehabilitated.[32][nb 5]



There are several theories about the invention of the rickshaw. Japan historian Seidensticker wrote of the theories:

Though the origins of the rickshaw are not entirely clear, they seem to be Japanese, and of Tokyo specifically. The most widely accepted theory offers the name of three inventors, and gives 1869 as the date of invention.[7]

Starting in 1870, the Tokyo government issued a permission for Izumi Yosuke, Takayama Kosuke, and Suzuki Tokujiro to build and sell rickshaws.[33] By 1872, they became the main mode of transportation in Japan, with about 40,000 rickshaws in service.[6]

The rickshaw's popularity in Japan declined by the 1930s with the advent of automated forms of transportation, like automobiles and trains. After the World War II, when gasoline and automobiles were scarce, they made a temporary come-back. The rickshaw tradition has stayed alive in Kyoto and Tokyo's geisha districts.[4][6]


Rickshaws were a common mode of transport in urban areas of Malaysia in the 19th and early 20th centuries until gradually replaced by cycle rickshaws.


Pulled and cycle rickshaws (qinqi) have been outlawed in Pakistan since the late 50s/early 60s. Prior to the introduction of auto rickshaws in cities, horse-drawn carriages (tongas) were a main source of public transportation.


Singapore had received its first rickshaws in 1880 and soon after they were prolific, making a "noticeable change in the traffic on Singapore's streets."[2] Bullock carts and gharries were used prior to the introduction of rickshaws.[5]

Many of the poorest individuals in Singapore in the late nineteenth century were poor, unskilled people of Chinese ancestry. Sometimes called coolies, the hardworking men found pulling rickshaws was a new means of employment.[34] Rickshaw pullers experienced "very poor" living conditions, poverty and long hours of hard work. Income remained unchanged from 1876 to 1926, about $.60 per day.[35][36][nb 6]

Rickshaws popularity increased into the 20th century. There were approximately 50,000 rickshaws in 1920 and that number doubled by 1930.[7] In or after the 1920s a union was formed, called the Rickshaw Association, protect the welfare of rickshaw workers.[38]

North America

United States of America

From A History of the Los Angeles City Market (1930-1950), pulled rickshaws were operated in Los Angeles by high school teenagers during that time period.[39][40]


Foot-driven rickshaws have enjoyed several decades of popularity in Halifax, Nova Scotia; in addition to providing tours of the historic Waterfront, rickshaws are also occasionally used for transportation by local residents. The city is home to the oldest rickshaw company in Canada.[41]

Rickshaws are a popular mode of transportation in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, providing tours of historical Byward Market, in the summer. Ottawa's rickshaws stay true to the traditional foot-driven rickshaw model, but feature modern sound-systems.[42][43]

Books, films, television, music and modern art

  • An early Rudyard Kipling story has the title The Phantom Rickshaw (1885). In it a young Englishman has a romance aboard a ship bound for India. He ends the affair and becomes engaged to another woman, causing his original love to die of a broken heart. After that, on excursions around the city of Simla, he frequently sees the ghost of the deceased driving around in her yellow-panelled rickshaw, though nobody else seems to notice the phenomenon.[44]
  • The 1936 novel Rickshaw Boy is a novel by the Chinese author Lao She about the life of a fictional Beijing rickshaw man. The English version Rickshaw Boy became a U.S. bestseller in 1945. It was an unauthorized translation that added a happy ending to the story. In 1982, the original version was made into a film of the same title.[45][46]
  • In the 1940s, Eddy Howard recorded a song called The Rickety Rickshaw Man.[47]
  • The 1958 Japanese movie Muhomatsu no issho (Rickshaw Man) by Hiroshi Inagaki tells the story of a Matsugoro, a rickshaw man who becomes a surrogate father to the child of a recently widowed woman.[48]
  • In the 1992 film City of Joy (whose title refers to Kolkata), Om Puri plays a rickshaw puller, revealing the economic and emotional hardship that these underpaid workers face on a day-to-day basis.[50]
  • In the episode The Bookstore of the American sitcom Seinfeld, Kramer and Newman import rickshaws to New York City, for the purpose of running a business. They intend to employ members of the city's homeless population; however, one steals their rickshaw. The two recover the rickshaw, and Newman forces Kramer to transport him uphill, a voyage Kramer is unable to make.[51]
  • In Pearl S. Buck's 1931 novel The Good Earth, hero Wang Lung leaves his land to travel southward during a drought. He ends up in the city of Kiangsu, where he becomes a rickshaw puller in order to support his family.[52]
  • English graffiti artist and activist Banksy portrays a modernised representation of a rickshaw in a piece where an overweight rich couple with a mobile phone (in colour) are being ferried by a young black boy and his rickshaw (in black and white).[53]
  • That 70's Show season 3 episode 24 "Backstage Pass" Kelso and Jackie mention a rickshaw in which their friend Fez has to pull.[54]

See also



Additional reading

External links

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