Wheels of Misfortune

Invented in Japan, rickshaws became a ubiquitous symbol of Western imperialism in the 19th century as native coolies hauled around their foreign masters in places as far afield as Shanghai and Zanzibar. But as they were steadily replaced by more efficient—and less demeaning—conveyances, the two-wheeled, human-powered carriages gradually disappeared from streets around the world. Now, the rickshaw's long, bumpy road is at a dead end. Calcutta, the last major metropolis with a traditional rickshaw fleet still in operation, will ban them following a state law passed last week declaring the vehicles "inhumane." Here are some other stops in the rickshaw's cosmopolitan,...

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