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The sent-down youth or rusticated youth (Chinese: 知识青年; pinyin: zhīshi qīngnián; literally: "educated youth", shortened to zhiqing) of the People's Republic of China refers to educated young people who, beginning in the 1950s until the end of the Cultural Revolution, willingly or under coercion, left the urban areas and were sent down to live and work in rural areas during the Up to the mountains and down to the countryside movement. 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.
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. Beginning in this year, 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. Additionally, the chaos surrounding the Revolution from 1966 to 1968 caused the Communist Party to realize that a way was needed to assign the youth to working positions, to avoid losing control of the situation. 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. Middle school students were organized and assigned on a national level to the countryside. 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. However, the majority of these re-urbanized youth had taken advantage of personal relations to leave the countryside. Those directed to deal with the "Project 571" coup denounced the entire movement as being disguised labor reform. 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.
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. 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 so-called scar literature included many vivid and realistic descriptions of their experiences, becoming the first public exploration of the cost of the Cultural Revolution.
From 1962 to 1978, it is estimated that there were almost 18 million rusticated youth.
- 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 "
- China's Sent-Down Generation 2013 216 "zhiqing: Contraction of zhishi qingnian, ..."
- 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"
- Shu Jiang Lu, When Huai Flowers Bloom, p 114-5 ISBN 978-0-7914-7231-6
- Shu Jiang Lu, When Huai Flowers Bloom, p 115 ISBN 978-0-7914-7231-6
- 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.
- 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
- 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.