Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army of China preparing for a military parade(REUTERS File)
Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army of China preparing for a military parade(REUTERS File)

In Mao-style revolution move, 10 mn young Chinese to be sent to villages

The report did not say how the volunteers will be chosen or persuaded or whether it will be mandatory for some to head to the villages.
Beijing | By Sutirtho Patranobis
UPDATED ON APR 12, 2019 12:45 PM IST

China will dispatch millions of youth “volunteers” in the next two years to develop villages, state media says, raising the spectre of Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s methods when he launched the Cultural Revolution five decades ago, triggering massive social and economic upheavals.

The Communist Youth League (CYL) announced this week that more than 10 million young volunteers will be “mobilised” to help “promote cultural, technological and medical development in rural areas by 2020” and to fill in the vacuum in villages created by the outflow of “talented and young workers”.

“These young volunteers will be sent to rural areas, especially old revolutionary base areas, regions of extreme poverty and areas where ethnic minority groups live to promote local development and improve personal skills,” read the document released by the CYL, and quoted by the nationalistic tabloid, Global Times.

It was referring to the regions, which were the bases for the Communist Party of China (CPC) before the emergence of new China.

The report did not say how the volunteers will be chosen or persuaded or whether it will be mandatory for some to head to the villages.

“The rising level of urbanisation in China has made more young people migrate from rural areas or less-developed regions to developed areas that have better resources and better income. This drains rural areas of their labour force,” the report said.

The Global Times article itself referenced the Cultural Revolution while talking about the new move.

“In the 1960s-70s, under the influence of the Cultural Revolution, (1966-76) the Party sent millions of urban teenagers to rural areas to live and participate in the so-called Down to the Countryside Movement,” it said.

Eminent historian of modern China Zhang Lifan said while speaking to the Hindustan Times that the new decision – like the decision taken by Mao five decades ago – could have been prompted by the economic situation.

“I commented during the Two Sessions (Parliament session in March) this year that the biggest problem in China at the moment is employment. The Sino-US trade war and changes in economic structure have led to the collapse of a large number of enterprises. The so-called ‘farmers returning to the countryside to start a business’ argument is to cover up unemployment,” Zhang, considered an outspoken critic, said.

“This year’s college graduates of 8.6 million (the number was 8.2 million last year) were unable to find employment and have to get to the countryside. In the Cultural Revolution, it was also because of the fact that there were tens of millions who could not find employment,” he added.

Zhang said the move is similar to the Cultural Revolution but President Xi Jinping lacks the “strength” of Mao. Xi himself spent seven years in a village in the poor northern province of Shaanxi from the age of 16.

“It is like the move to the countryside in the Cultural Revolution. But the leader lacks the strength of Mao. If a revolution is launched, it will lead to the CPC losing power,” he said.

Users on the Twitter-like Weibo social platform reacted warily, news agency AFP reported.

“Many evoked the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when Mao sent millions of “young intellectuals” into often primitive conditions in the countryside, while universities were closed for a decade,” the report said.

“Has it started again?” wondered one user named WangTingYu.

“We did that 40 years ago,” wrote Miruirong.

“Sometimes history advances, sometimes it retreats,” noted KalsangWangduTB.

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