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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: August 2019

Introduction

Summary

Of all the political campaigns that reconfigured daily life in the first three decades of the People’s Republic of China, the sent-down youth movement that sent 17 million urban youth to live in rural China in 1968–1980 is one of the most vividly remembered and hotly debated. Mao’s 1968 call for re-education catapulted urban youth into a world of rural poverty they would otherwise never have known. Memorialized in fiction, films, art exhibits, and even an orchestral performance, the movement is commonly branded a misguided revolution, a forced relocation, and a sacrifice of youth. The victimization of sent-down youth has been invoked to symbolize the suffering of all Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Whether former sent-down youth look back on that era as one of deprivation that handicapped them or as one that honed their ability to navigate adversity, their years living in the countryside constituted the pivotal experience for a generation that came of age during the Cultural Revolution.