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In China, what Was the Down to the Countryside Movement?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Down to the Countryside Movement was a policy instituted in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by Mao Zedong in the 1960s and '70s. Although it's known as "Down to the Countryside" in English, the exact translation from the original Chinese term is "up to the mountains and down to the villages." Young people from the city were sent to work in villages in order to remove any bourgeois or privileged sentiments and reduce the urban population. This had generally negative physical and psychological effects on the people involved. After Mao's death in 1976, many of the people who were involved in the project were able to return home.

Official Purpose

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the officials of the Maoist regime were very anti-bourgeoisie, believing that revolutionary force that would lead the world toward socialism could be found in the peasant farm workers. These officials decided to re-educate young urban people being brought up in privileged families by sending them into small towns in the mountains and farming villages. They were usually sent off in this manner after completing their high school education. There, the youths would work, and the intention was that their privileged viewpoints would be eradicated, or at least tempered, by what they learned from their work in the country.

Practical Motivations

In practical terms, this policy was designed to reduce unrest in urban areas that had arisen in response to the early years of the Cultural Revolution. The social structure of many areas had been destroyed by the government's anti-hierarchical policies, with people being arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Many people were unhappy with the witch hunting that went on in the early 1960s as well as the fanaticism of the Red Guards, who were groups of students who idolized Mao. They were known for their often-brutal behavior and arbitrary attacks on those they felt were capitalists or bourgeois. By sending the educated youth, many of whom were Red Guards, out of the cities, Mao hoped to soothe the urban unrest.

There were also a number of practical concerns that Mao hoped to solve with the Down to the Countryside Movement, including urban overpopulation and unemployment. He also hoped to boost agricultural production and develop the rural areas of the country. Moving mass numbers of people out of the cities would help with urban overpopulation and, consequently, reduce the number of people who needed jobs there. Since most of those people were put to work on farms and development projects, agricultural production could also be boosted and the frontier developed.


Though the sudden mass movement of people from the cities did reduce overcrowding and unemployment, it had many negative effects on those who were sent away. Those who were affected by the Down to the Countryside Movement are often referred to as the "lost generation," since many of them had no chance to attend university. It also removed them from their friends, families, and all that was familiar, and many had long-term psychological problems from the sudden loss of their former lives. Additionally, many people who participated in the movement had long-term health problems because of the poor living conditions in their work sites.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By anon952658 — On May 22, 2014

I think the cultural revolution had a bad impact on the economy and China.

By Phaedrus — On Mar 29, 2014

I think that entire Cultural Revolution period in Chinese history was a disgrace. I knew a girl in college whose parents suffered because of it. Her mother was sent up to the mountains to live, and she couldn't visit her family for years. She wasn't a revolutionary or a protester, she just happened to live in a big city when Mao's regime decided to teach urban sophisticates a lesson in humility.

By Reminiscence — On Mar 29, 2014

I became friends with the owners of a Chinese restaurant in town, and one day the husband told me he was one of the "Sent Down" people, as he called it. He had just turned 19 and was about to start college when a local police officer knocked on his parents' door and asked to speak with him. He said he was ordered to move to a small village on the opposite side of China a week later. He spent three years plowing fields and raising cattle under Mao's Down to the Countryside program.

When he was finally allowed to move back home, he and his family opened a small restaurant and used the profits to move to America. He never really complained about the time he had to spend in the village, though. He viewed it as a small sacrifice for his country, even if he personally didn't agree with it at all at the time. He said the work was hard and sometimes demeaning, but it was that way in the bigger cities, too.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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