Different Covers or Rickshaw Boy-Jiamu Cao

Rickshaw Boy, Literal translation is Camel Xiangzi, by Lao She is a novel that was first published in 1937. Describes a tragedy of Chinese rickshaw boy, Xiangzi, who lives in the 1920s Peking, China, an optimistic and hardworking youth ends up being a stealer and betrayer.

Since 1937, Rickshaw Boy has been in print and produced multiple versions, and there are countless artists have designed a cover for it. Unfortunately, due to China’s artistic environment and inattention to artists, most artists’ names were not verifiable.

Rickshaw Boy

First Edition Cover of Rickshaw Boy, 1937, People’s Literature Publishing House

The first edition was published by People’s Literature Publishing House. In 1937, the cover is quite simple and rustic: words from top to bottom are the author’s name, book’s name, and publisher. All the fonts are common and without any art processing. Yet, the publisher’s and  Author’s names were printed in Ming, a serif font was considered more modern and formal; the book’s name was printed in KaiTi, a sans-serif font had a longer history than Ming, giving a traditional feel. In a word, the designer only changed the font and size, to make the reader pay more attention to the book’s name. In contrast to the followed editions, it is extremely concise.

Rickshaw Boy, 1990xiangzi2

Rongsheng Gao, Cover of Rickshaw Boy, 1990

The most recognizable and successful cover of Rickshaw Boy was designed by Rongsheng Gao. Because it depicts all the important elements of the story in the simplest picture. This is also one of the three earliest cover design could be found.

Its main tone is composed of gray and brown. The character in front is doesn’t have much detail, almost made of geometric shapes. However, it is still readable that he is a poor rickshaw boy, in the late Qing Dynasty: the typical hair cut and rickshaw boy’s wearing. His shadow is designed in the shape of a camel, correspond with the title of the novel.  On one hand, the camel symbol of his original kind; on the other hand, the camel hinted at his sin: Xiangzi once stole camels to sell money-this thing was like a shadow that couldn’t be got rid of, and made him downcast. In the lower right corner is a silhouette of the landmark of Beijing – the Forbidden City. The name of the novel is in bold East Asian Gothic typeface, different from Gothic typeface Blackletter, this is a sans-serif font that frequently appeared in the Chinese New Literature Movement. The movement happened in the early and middle of the 1900s, laid the foundation of modern Chinese. Author of Rickshaw Boy, Lao She, was a representative of this movement.

This cover lays down the impression of the original novel.

After 2017,  any publisher has the right to publish this book, which led more artists to start designing covers for the novel. Many people imitated Gao’s style and element Some of the covers even quoted his original work for a second revision:


Artist Unknown, “Cover of Rickshaw Boy”, 2oo8, People’s Literature Publishing House

Artist Unknown, “Cover of Rickshaw Boy”, 2017, Zhejiang Education Publishing Group

Artist Unknown, illustration for Rickshaw Boy, Cited by Writer’s Press in 2018

In addition,  as long as designers use illustrations or photos as part of the design, they were hard to get rid of the idea of “rickshaw”. Gao’s work avoids this, and become a classic.

All in all, as of 2008, Camel Xiangzi, as the second most printed modern literature in China, has provided many artists with creative themes. Also, in China’s unified textbooks and different provincial exams, the cover designed by Rongsheng Gao appeared once and once as an analysis of the social environment at the time. Even though Gao’s original cover is no longer on the market, it was still successfully impressed the audiences.

Work cite:

Zhitian Luo, “Social Function and Social Response of Literary Revolution”, July 2014. http://www.aisixiang.com/data/76358.html

Shu Juan, “‘Back’ of the Cover”, May 31, 2019.https://www.jianshu.com/p/e46d199b37c5

Runhua Wang. “Renhe Depot, Maojiawan Grand Hybrid, White House”,http://www.nssd.org/articles/article_read.aspx?id=7684631

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