Sent-down youth

The sent-down, rusticated, or "educated" youth (Chinese: 知識青年), also known as the zhiqing, were the young people who—beginning in the 1950s until the end of the Cultural Revolution, willingly or under coercion—left the urban districts of the People's Republic of China to live and work in rural areas as part of the "Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement".[1][2]

Chinese names
Educated Youth
Traditional Chinese知識青年
Simplified Chinese知识青年
Literal meaningintellectual youth
Literal meaning[contraction]
Sent-down Youth
Literal meaningdemoted youth

The vast majority of those who went had received elementary to high school education, and only a small minority had matriculated to the post-secondary or university level.[3]


After the People's Republic of China was established, in order to resolve employment problems in the cities, starting in the 1950s youth from urban areas were organized to move to the rural countryside, especially in remote towns to establish farms. As early as 1953, the People's Daily published the editorial "Organize school graduates to participate in agricultural production labor". In 1955, Mao Zedong asserted that "the countryside is a vast expanse of heaven and earth where we can flourish", which would become the slogan for the Down to the Countryside Movement.[4]

Beginning in 1955, the Communist Youth League organized farming, and encouraged the youth to cultivate the land. From 1962, it was suggested that the Down to the Countryside Movement be nationally organized, and in 1964 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China established an oversight group. In 1966, under the influence of the Cultural Revolution, university entrance examinations were suspended and until 1968, many students were unable to receive admittance into university or become employed.[4]

Additionally, the Communist Party leadership sent youth to the countryside to help defuse the student fanaticism set in motion by the student Red Guards movement from 1966 to 1968. On December 22, 1968, Chairman Mao directed the People's Daily to publish a piece entitled "We too have two hands, let us not laze about in the city", which quoted Mao as saying "The intellectual youth must go to the country, and will be educated from living in rural poverty." In 1969, many youth were rusticated.[5] High school students were organized and assigned to the countryside on a national level.


From 1962 to 1979, no fewer than 16 million youth were displaced (some sources set the minimum at 18 million).[6][7] Although many were directed to distant provinces such as Inner Mongolia, the usual destinations for the sent-down youth were rural counties in neighboring areas. Many of the Red Guards from Shanghai travelled no further than the nearby islands of Chongming and Hengsha at the mouth of the Yangtze.[7]

In 1971, numerous problems with the movement began to come to light, at the same time as the Communist Party allocated jobs to the youth who were returning from the country. The majority of these re-urbanized youth had taken advantage of personal relations (guanxi) to leave the countryside. Those involved with the "Project 571" coup denounced the entire movement as being disguised penal labor (laogai). In 1976, even Mao realized the severity of the rustication movement and decided to reexamine the issue. But in the meantime, over a million youth continued to be rusticated every year. Many students could not deal with the harsh life and died in the process of reeducation.[8]


After Mao's death in 1976, many of the rusticated youth remained in the countryside. Some of them had married into their villages. In 1977, university entrance exams were reinstated, inspiring the majority of rusticated youth to attempt to return to the cities. In Yunnan in the winter of 1978, the youth used strikes and petitions to implore the government to hear their plight, which reinforced the pressing nature of the issue to party authorities.[9]

On March 8, 1980, Hu Yaobang, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, proposed ending rustication. On October 1 of the same year, the party essentially decided to end the movement and allow the youth to return to their families in the cities. In addition, under age and marriage restrictions, one child per family of the rusticated youth was permitted to accompany their parents to their native cities.

In the late 1970s, the "scar literature" included many vivid and realistic descriptions of their experiences, becoming the first public exploration of the cost of the Cultural Revolution. A different kind of rustication literature, more nuanced in its evaluation of the experience, was inaugurated in the 1980s by the Shanghai writer, and former zhiqing, Chen Cun.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cao, Zuoya (2003), Out of the crucible: literary works about the rusticated youth, Lexington Books, p. 1, ISBN 978-0-7391-0506-1 "The Zhiqing and the Rustication Movement "Zhiqing" is the abbreviation for zhishi qingnian, which is usually translated as "educated youth". (Zhishi means "knowledge" while qingnian means "youth".) The term zhishi qingnian appeared during "
  2. ^ China's Sent-Down Generation 2013 216 "zhiqing: Contraction of zhishi qingnian, ..."
  3. ^ The A to Z of the Chinese Cultural Revolution -Guo Jian, Yongyi Song, Yuan Zhou - 2009 p74 "EDUCATED YOUTHS (zhishi qingnian or zhiqing). Although college graduates were also included in its original definition, this term, as commonly understood today, refers mainly to urban and suburban middle-school and high-school graduates during the Cultural Revolution who went to the... to be reeducated by the farmers there"
  4. ^ a b Shu Jiang Lu, When Huai Flowers Bloom, p 114-5 ISBN 978-0-7914-7231-6
  5. ^ Shu Jiang Lu, When Huai Flowers Bloom, p 115 ISBN 978-0-7914-7231-6
  6. ^ Riskin, Carl; United Nations Development Programme (2000), China human development report 1999: transition and the state, Oxford University Press, p. 37, ISBN 978-0-19-592586-9
  7. ^ a b Bramall, Chris. Industrialization of Rural China, p. 148. Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2007. ISBN 0199275939.
  8. ^ "Up to the mountains, down to the villages (1968)". Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  9. ^ Bin Yang. (2009, June). "We Want to Go Home!" The Great Petition of the Zhiqing, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, 1978–1979. The China Quarterly, 198, 401–421.
  10. ^ Leung, Laifong (2016). "Chen Cun". Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers: Biography, Bibliography, and Critical Assessment. Routledge. pp. 34–36.

Further readingEdit

  • Bernstein, Thomas P. (1977). Up to the Mountains and Down to the Villages: The Transfer of Youth from Urban to Rural China. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Rene, Helena K. (2013). "China's Sent-Down Generation: Public Administration and the Legacies of Mao's Rustication Program". Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. ISBN 9781589019874
  • Yihong Pan. (2003). Tempered in the Revolutionary Furnace: China’s Youth in the Rustication Movement. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.