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

6 - Things Fall Apart


By the mid-1970s the sent-down youth movement was beset with insurmountable problems. As Chapter Six demonstrates, an increasing number of urban youth did not want to stay in the countryside, while urban cadres became equally unwilling to join the weiwentuan teams dispatched to provide relief. Relations between rural governments and the weiwentuan from Shanghai became conflictual, paralleled by mutual antagonism between urban youth and rural leaders. At the same time, weiwentuan reports on conditions of sent-down youth became desperately pessimistic about the prospects of long-term settlement of urban youth in the countryside. The flow of youth back to Shanghai increased, primarily without official sanction. What stand out in archival reports are the ways in which the Shanghai government, weiwentuan, and rural officials, all charged to support the sent-down youth movement, began a collaboration to enable youth to return to the city and re-establish their official urban residency. By the time dramatic protests by youth on the Yunnan state farms took place in 1978–1979—commonly cited as bringing the movement to a halt—almost all the Shanghai youth assigned to production brigades had already left or were in the process of leaving.