A Little Incident by Lu Hsun

Six years have slipped by since I came from the country to the capital. During that time I have seen and heard quite enough of so-called affairs of state; but none of them made much impression on me. If asked to define their influence, I can only say they aggravated my ill temper and made me, frankly speaking, more and more cynical.

One incident, however, struck me as significant, and aroused me from my ill temper, so that even now I cannot forget it.

It happened during the winter of 1917. A bitter north wind was blowing, but, to make a living, I had to be up and out early. I met scarcely a soul on the road, and had great difficulty in hiring a ricksaw to take me to the South Gate. Presently the wind dropped a little. By now the loose dust had all been blown away, leaving the roadway clean, and the rickshaw man quickened his pace. We were just approaching the South Gate when someone crossing the road was entangled in our rickshaw and fell slowly to the ground.

It was a woman, with streaks of white in her hair, wearing ragged clothes. She had left the pavement without warning to cut across in front of us, and although the rickshaw man had made way, her tattered jacket, unbuttoned and fluttering in the wind, had caught on the shaft. Luckily the rickshaw man pulled up quickly, otherwise she would certainly have had a bad fall and been seriously injured.

She lay there on the ground, and the rickshaw man immediately went to her aid. I did not think the old woman was hurt, and there had been no witnesses to what had happened, so I resented this over-eagerness of the rickshaw man which might land him in trouble and hold me up.

“It’s alright,” I said. “Go on.”

However, he paid no attention – perhaps he had not heard – for he set down the shafts, and gently helped the old woman to get up. Supporting her by one arm, he asked:

“Are you all right?”

“I’m hurt.”

I had seen how slowly she fell, and was sure she could not be hurt. I thought she must be pretending, which was disgusting. The rickshaw man had asked for trouble, and now he had it. He would have to find his own way out.

But the rickshaw man did not hesitate for a minute after the old woman said she was injured. Still holding her arm, he helped her slowly forward. I was surprised. When I looked ahead, I saw a police station. Because of the high wind, there was no one outside, so the rickshaw man helped the old woman towards the gate.

Suddenly I had a strange feeling. His dusty, retreating figure seemed larger at that instant. Indeed, the further he walked the larger he appeared, until I had to look up to him. At the same time he seemed gradually to be exerting a pressure on me, which threatened to overpower the small self under my fur-lined gown.

My strength seemed to be draining away as I sat there motionless, my mind a blank, until a policeman came out. Then I got down from the rickshaw.

The policeman came up to me and said, “Get another rickshaw. He can’t pull you anymore.”

Without thinking, I pulled a handful of coppers from my coat pocket and handed them to the policeman. “Please give him these,” I said.

The wind had dropped completely, but the road was still quiet. I walked along thinking, but I was almost afraid to turn my thoughts on myself. Setting aside what had happened earlier, what had I meant by that handful of coppers? Was it a reward? Who was I to judge the rickshaw man? I could not answer myself.

Even now, this remains fresh in my memory. It often causes me distress, and makes me think about myself. The military and political affairs of those years I have forgotten as completely as the classics I read in my childhood. Yet this incident keeps coming back to me, often more clearly than in actual life, teaching me shame, urging me to reform, and giving me fresh courage and hope.


The story begins with the recall of the narrator or the “I” about what happens six years ago, what does the “I” thinks and feels over the never-ending, and repetitions of events around him known as “affairs of state.” It opens up and shows what kind of personality the “I” had, before the incident that will change him as the story goes on.

The setting of the story is in China; where social classification was apparent- I believe during the story was written. This social classification can be seen in the story; the “I” represents people of high rankings, whereas the puller represents people of lower rankings, or the commoner.

After the incident, the “I” think back to the situation, and to himself. He was bombarded by a lot of questions in his mind, but still can’t find, give a relevant answer to his own conscience. The “I” or the narrator of the story stated that the “incident” still burns in his memory; and as he tries to remember the incident, it purges him with shame, yet impels him to be better, and invigorates his hope and courage.

The beginning of the story already gives a cue of the conflict of the narrator or the “I” to the society.

“…during all the time, there have occurred many of those events known as ‘affairs of state’, a great number of which I have seen or heard about. My heart does not seem to have been in the least affected by any of them, and recollection now only tends to ill my temper and cause me to like people less as the days wears on.”            

It seems that the “I” becomes weary in the events happening in the society, and thus become insensitive. As we all know, our society has profound influence in each individuals, it may influence as in positive and negative ways, though. The narrator’s insensitivity is a symbol of protest, of him, against the society.

The clash of two contrasting personalities of the “I” and the puller are evidently seen in this story; the “I” is cold-hearted, insensitive and inconsiderate, while the rickshaw man, is a total opposite of “I”, is kind-hearted, considerate and sensible, respectively.

The story tells us that man is good in-nature; and man is us. No matter how cruel or rude a man appears to be, there is still goodness lie in him that only needs a “bang” to wake-up.


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