Authored by Isaiah Sirois
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Amidst factional tensions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that fomented the Chinese Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, Chairman Mao Zedong sought to purge China of party bureaucrats that “were taking the capitalist road.”1 A means by which Mao sought to purge capitalist influence in China was the rustication program named shàngshān xià xiāng yùndòng, the Down to the Countryside Movement (or, more literally, the movement “up to the mountains and down to the villages”), sending urban youth to rural areas. The ostensible foundation of the movement sought to educate urban youth with the lessons of agrarian life in rural China; however, the movement also served a distinctly political purpose. Mao initiated the program prior to the start of the Cultural Revolution, but its implementation accelerated sharply in 1968 amidst the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.2 The foundational English-language work on Chinese rustication, written by Thomas Bernstein in 1977, offers a romantic and idealistic narrative of the movement’s success. However, the experience of one sent-down youth, Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, along with interview-based studies by Helena K. Rene and Michel Bonnin, offer unique insight regarding the Down to the Countryside Movement that complicates the traditionally sympathetic narrative of the movement’s motivations and effects.
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