Rickshaw



Rickshaws are hand-drawn taxi-cabs used in colonial Singapore.1 Originating from Japan, rickshaws were first brought to Singapore in 1880, becoming a major form of public transport. Rickshaw-pulling was a primary source of income for thousands of Chinese immigrants.2

History
Invented in Japan in 1869, the term jinrickshaw was derived from jinrikisha, the Japanese name for the vehicle, meaning “man-powered carriage”.3 Used initially as private vehicles for noble families, the jinrickshaw soon became a popular means of transport with more than 150,000 of them available in Japan within a decade of its invention.4 Its name was shortened to “rickshaw” at the turn of the century as these carriages were exported across Asia and became a common sight on the streets of larger cities like Yokohama, Japan; Calcutta, India; and Shanghai, China.

 
Rickshaws were introduced to Singapore in 1880 with the first consignment arriving from Shanghai, but subsequent rickshaws were imported from Japan.6 Competing with the gharry (two-wheeled horse carriages) drivers, eventually causing the latter’s demise, the rickshaw proved to be a cheaper and faster mode of transportation.7 There grew to be hundreds of rickshaws in Singapore, which saw the introduction of the Jinrickshaw Ordinance (Ordinance V) in 1892. A new municipal department dedicated to the rickshaw-related matters was also set up.8

The British colonial government gradually abolished rickshaws from the late 1920s in the interests of safety, especially with the rise in motor traffic.9 At its height in the early 1920s, there were nearly 30,000 licensed rickshaws in Singapore; however, this number had dwindled to 3,693 by 1940.10 After World War II, trishaws replaced the rickshaws, particularly after the latter was banned in 1947 on humanitarian grounds.11

Description
Unlike the single-seaters found in Hong Kong, Singapore’s rickshaws were initially double-seaters – a feasible load since the roads here were less hilly and steep. First-class single-seaters were introduced in 1904. Fitted with wooden furniture and tyres with rubber cushion, this model was designed for speed and comfort. The first-class rickshaw grew in popularity as rickshaw pullers who previously carried two passengers in a double rickshaw realised they could earn the same for ferrying one in a single-seater over the same distance. By 1920, the iron-wheeled double-seater rickshaws were no longer found in Singapore.12


In 1890, the seat cushions, back and hood of the rickshaw had to be lined with American cloth because the original Japanese red cloth stained passenger clothes when wet and could not withstand the tropical weather in Singapore. Tail-lights became a requirement from 1918 onwards, while rear reflectors followed suit in 1939 to make rickshaws more visible to motorists and thus prevent accidents.13

Rickshaws offered an affordable and convenient means of getting around.14 Popular among the rich and poor alike, rickshaws were ideal for short journeys through crowded inner-city streets and alleys. Besides from passengers, rickshaws also carried goods, manure and even cadavers. Commuters used it to get to work, ferry children to school or attend social gatherings.15 Rickshaws could last for at least five years with regular maintenance. However, the purchase cost was high, amounting to at least a year’s salary of a rickshaw puller in 1917. In an attempt to cut costs, rickshaws began to be produced locally in 1921, but the product proved inferior compared with the Japanese-made ones.16

Rickshaw pullers
Hengwah and Hockchew immigrants from southeastern China dominated the rickshaw trade from the end of the 19th century. For these men, majority of whom were illiterate peasants, rickshaw-pulling was an easy means of earning a livelihood since it did not call for special skills and only required coordination, physical strength and stamina. However, pullers not only had to bear with the physical strain, but also the risks of injury and even death from overexertion and mishaps.17 The Straits Times newspaper described rickshaw-pulling to be “the deadliest occupation in the East (and) the most degrading for human beings to pursue”.18

Pullers drew the two-wheeled cart using the long shafts protruding by the wheels. The hood of the rickshaw was always down unless a passenger requested it to be up for protection against the harsh weather, or to maintain anonymity while travelling.19

Pullers earned about $1 a day, and around 20 to 30 cents of that daily income went to the rickshaw rental. Some of them had a second job as construction coolies to supplement their income.20

Variant names

Jinrickshaw, jinricksha, jinrikisha, rikisha, ricksha, rikishaw21




Author
Bonny Tan




References
1. The land transport of Singapore: From early times to the present. (1984). Singapore: Educational Publications Bureau, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 779.9388095957 LAN)
2. The land transport of Singapore: From early times to the present. (1984). Singapore: Educational Publications Bureau, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 779.9388095957 LAN); Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 14–15, 36, 38. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
3. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
4. Rimmer, P. J. (1986). Rikisha to rapid transit: Urban public transport systems and policy in Southeast Asia. Sydney: Pergamon Press, pp. 43, 45. (Call no.: RSING 388.40959 RIM)
5. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR); Rimmer, P. J. (1986). Rikisha to rapid transit: Urban public transport systems and policy in Southeast Asia. Sydney: Pergamon Press, p. 44. (Call no.: RSING 388.40959 RIM)
6. Singapore’s first rikishas. (1933, July 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 14–15. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
8. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 332. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
9. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 64, 120 (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
10. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 61–62. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
11. Lim, J. (2013). A slow ride into the past: The Chinese trishaw industry in Singapore, 1942–1983. Victoria: Monash University Publishing, pp. 25–29. (Call no.: RSING 388.41320959 LIM)
12. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 51–52, 64. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
13. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 55, 298 (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR); Rikisha lights. (1917, December 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
15. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 51–52, 55, 69–70, 152. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
16. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 57–58. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
17. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 36, 137–140, 282. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
18. Double rikishas. (1912, October 28). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
19. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 50–51. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
20. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR)
21. Warren, J. F. (2003). Rickshaw coolie: A people’s history of Singapore, 1880–1940. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 14, 52–53, 62. (Call no.: RSING 388.341 WAR); Fung, C.-M. (2005). Reluctant heroes: Rickshaw pullers in Hong Kong and Canton, 1874–1954. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. xx. (Call no.: R 388.341 FUN)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Transportation and logistics
Rickshaws--Singapore
Transportation