上山下乡/上山下鄉

(Shàng Shān Xià   Xiāng)

(Settling in the countryside and mountain areas)

 

 

Go to the Countryside; Go to the Borderland; Go to the Places Where the Motherland Needs You

By Shanghai Revolutionary Publishing Group (Shanghai People's Art Publishing House)

On the red flag in the foreground is this quotation from Mao (December 1968) It says, "Young intellectuals must go to the countryside to be re-educated by the former poor and low middle class peasants." Students on the train are leaving Shanghai, saying goodbye to their family and friends. They all hold Mao's Little Red Book and wear Mao badges and the faddish army greatcoats. Their cold-weather clothes indicate they are going to the northern border.

 

This is Jin Xunhua (金训华), a nationwide role model for the youth during the movement of shangshan xiaxiang (settle in the countryside and mountain areas). May 25, 1969, he took his younger sister and a group of Shanghai educated youth to the northeast frontier region, Heilongjiang Province, where they settled in the countryside at Xunke County, Shuanghe Production Brigade as peasants. The afternoon of August 15, torrents of water came rushing down the mountain. In order to salvage two electric poles, he jumped into the turbulent flood without regard for his life. Three times he was hit by huge waves that rushed him into whirlpools of water. Each time, when he struggled to the surface, he did not retreat but instead continued towards the poles. In the end, he died and became a hero nationwide. Influenced by him, more and more young people were determined to settle in the countryside and mountain areas.

The photo of Jin Xunhua was given to me by one of Jin Xunhua's comrades as a keepsake to cherish the memory of my experience in the brigade where the hero lived and braved the elements. The words on the back read "This is for Comrade Lihua as our mutual encouragement."

   
 

 

November 6, 1969, being determined to continue my hero's ways, I left Shanghai with twenty of my schoolmates for Shuanghe. After traveling four days and three nights by train, one day and night by bus, and one long day by horse-drawn cart, we arrived outside of a snow-covered village around 10 pm. Under Jia Lianzhang's command, we were lined up and paired with twenty local peasants who helped each one of us to carry our suitcase. With Jia Lianzhang's calling cadence "one, two, one; one, two, one ..." we marched in the snow by moonlight with the sound under our feet "crunch, crunch, crunch ..." into the village.

 

Each of us wore a grass green cotton-padded jacket and trousers, a grass green cotton-padded marten hat and a pair of rubber shoes with cotton-padded uppers. The government provided all of these free, as no families could afford them with their clothing ration coupons. The shoes were two-sizes larger than one's normal size to accommodate the felt socks or dried hay in addition to the normal socks we would wear.

 

During the freezing winter, in which the coldest day was minus 47 degrees Celsius, I wore two layers of cotton-padded jackets when working outside.

 

When we worked in the field, we often held a critical meeting during break. It's called a "field criticizing meeting". This picture shows the time during which we were criticizing the Vice Chairman Liu Shaoqi who was the next in line to Mao Zedong. The vertical banner reads "Down with Liu Shaoqi!" On that day we broke frozen animal manure from a big pile and applied it to the fields. The woman standing, one of the closest friends of the deceased hero Jin Xunhua, was giving a speech.

 

 

 

 

 

Wheat, corn, soybeans, millet were the major grains that were produced. Because machinery was scarce, large-scale labor work was required from sowing to harvesting, all of which was extremely hard for me. I held back my tears and gritted my teeth. Soon it was winter again. The year’s work made my skin darker and rougher and my hands callused. My strength was enhanced, my willpower was tempered, and I proved myself a true Red youth.

Planting corn was a collaborative effort with three or four people on a team. The first, usually a man, dug a hole on the ridge; the second, usually a woman,  dribbled in three or four corn seeds; the third added manure and the fourth person filled the hole with dirt using his/her foot and then lightly stepped on it. Except for digging, I did all of the other kinds of work. Corn was harvested in August and September. We broke off ears of corn one ridge row after another.

 

We often walked back from distant fields and mountains after a long day's work while local peasants rode their bikes home.

Below was the only "combine" (康拜因kāngbàiyīn)our brigade owned.

 

   

Next to us was the river called "Shuanghe". The brigade was named after this river, and the hero was drowned in the same river.

 

 

The ferryboat was the only means to transport people and goods. It was powered by a cable stretched across the river and pulled by a ferry attendant to move the ferry. It was much easier to cross the river during the winter when the river was frozen.

A bunch of logs fastened together floated on the river, as they were being transported from the forest to us for our use.

 

 

 

 

The paramount task during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was to propagate Mao Zedong Thought. Performing revolutionary songs and dances were some of the ways to carry out this task. Our hero brigade formed an amateur literary and artistic troupe of 14 people. The only instrument we had was a small accordion. We were full of enthusiasm and sincerity, repeatedly practiced and performed, in spite of all difficulties. We worked with others on the fields during day, and we practiced singing and dancing during evening while others were resting. During the busiest seasons we often had to practice separately because we worked in different shifts on the fields. We passed Mao Zedong's words "determination, sacrifice, surmount every difficulty, to fight for victory" from one to another to encourage us all to keep plugging away to the end.

 

I became a village elementary school teacher in the early 70s. I taught all subjects, first in a double-level class, the first grade and the third grade together, and then taught the fifth grade alone. The two women were governmental functionaries from Shanghai. The daughter of one of them was in my fifth grade class. The condition in the village elementary school was similar to that in the school depicted in Zhang Yimo's movie "Not One Less".

 

The tension between China and the Soviet Union worsened. Our brigade was ordered to engage in war preparations. The entire village was reorganized as a militia company composed of three militia platoons: a “rear-area militia platoon” of older people and youngsters; an “unarmed militia platoon” consisting of the majority of young and middle-aged people; and an “armed militia platoon” consisting of thirty young people in three squads, one of which was ten women. After having gone through a rigid check on family background and personal performance, I was chosen to be one of the ten women. At a village meeting, I was handed a submachine gun made in America, seized from Americans during the Korean War.

       

Nine of us women each a submachine gun, but twenty men had old-style rifles, guns with a long rifled barrel with an effective range of 400 meters.

 

This semi-automatic rifle, the best weapon we had, belonged to the hero's sister. We all were envious and borrowed it for pictures.

 

We all liked to have pictures taken with the hero's sister.

 

 

Because of our brigade's fame nationwide, we had groups of high-level visitors sometimes. This picture was taken for the purpose of an exhibition somewhere in Heilongjiang Province. Some of the women in the picture were, in fact, not armed at that time.

The building in the background, the village auditorium, was the first one built of bricks. We produced bricks ourselves by molding clay into rectangular blocks and baking them in a kiln. My contribution to the building was to lead a horse from a stable to the building site, cover its eyes, and have it pull a drill round and round to get water out from underground. The horse was the oldest horse in the village. It's tall but very gentle. The village chief believed it's safe for me to handle it.

 

It was proclaimed that education had been taken over by bourgeois intellectuals. Consequently, since the fall of 1966, all of schools were closed with no more enrollment and no more classes, except for some rural areas. Only in 1972 did a few colleges and universities resume admission under a new system based on Mao's teachings. The selection of students was based on political virtue, so those from families of workers, peasants or soldiers, the "proletarians," were deemed the most politically virtuous. The educated urban youth, after obtaining "reeducation" from peasants or workers, were reclassified" as peasants or workers, and thus were eligible candidates. Students during the first half of 1970s were labeled as worker-peasant-soldier student (工农兵学员 gōng nóng bīng xuéyuán).

 

In 1973 we had the opportunity to take entrance exams for colleges or universities. In our brigade one had to first express one's wish in writing and wait to obtain permission from the whole villagers to go to the Xunke county (逊克县) seat to take the exams. At the village meeting, all of the youth who wished to go to colleges or universities were called one by one, and villagers' hands were counted one by one. Luckily and surprisingly, all of the villagers raised their hands when my name was called. It was because I worked hard on the field and I taught children well. I was selected to go with other nine comrades to take the entrance exams in the county seat. Among us ten, only one boy, the first on the left in the second row, was a local peasant's son.

        

   

 

 

 

The village sent a horse-drawn cart (大板车) to take us to our commune’s center to catch a bus for the county seat. Because of formalities we needed to go through and two-day exams, we spent a week in the county seat at our own expense. Short of money, we had to eat in the cheapest restaurant. We ate only noodles three meals a day. One evening, bored, we were sitting at the shore of the Heilongjiang river which is between China and Russia. Someone suggested creating a collective poem by each person chanting a line. One started a first line, another followed and then third, and I concluded with a fourth line.

来到江边,

秀才考状元。

一天三碗面,

可怜可怜。

lái dào jiāng biān,

xiùcái kǎo zhuàngyuán.

yī tiān sān wǎn miàn,

kě lián, kě lián.

 

Come to the river side,

'Xiucai' take exams for 'Zhuangyuan'.

Three bowls of noodles a day,

How pitiful they are.

 

On the return trip to our village, we all agreed not to mention this poem to anyone because it could be deemed to be counterrevolutionary and we could risk our lives and futures.

 

Farewell to the Hero! Farewell to my comrades!

 

       

 

While waiting for the results of the entrance exam, one of the hero's comrades who also went through the process wrote an article to withdraw his application. He criticized his attempt to city to study as fleeing the countryside. He felt bad when he compared himself with the hero. His article exerted influence on many others who reaffirm their will to settle in the countryside for their life time.

Three of us were admitted. The one woman standing with me in the picture studied at Xi'an University in Heilongjiang Province; a young man went to the College of Physical Education in Shanghai; and I was admitted to the Foreign Language Department at Fudan University to study German. At the village farewell meeting, I burst into tears out of sentimental attachment to the hero brigade, the village, and my comrades.

 

Many former comrades revisited Shuanghe village. The first person from the right is the hero's sister and the second is one of the government functionaries.

They were in front of the house we built with straw, tree branches and dirt. Six of them were built in a row for 106 of us from Shanghai. Now only this house remains to memorialize the past.

   
After 37 years, I finally was able to fulfill my dream and visit Shuanghe village with three former comrades. The picture on the right was taken in front of the house.