I successfully defended by doctoral dissertation on March 3, 2017. Advised by Edward A. McCord, my committee included Gregg Brazinsky, Shawn McHale, Bruce Dickson, and Justin Jacobs.
Titled “Xinjiang’s 100,000: State-led Urban-to-Rural Population Resettlement in Socialist China,” my dissertation explores state-led, urban-to-rural population resettlement in socialist China. In particular, my dissertation concerns the efforts to move huge numbers of young people in the early and mid-1960s.
While the “up to the mountains, down to the villages” movement, which sent-down millions of Red Guards in an effort to defuse the Cultural Revolution after 1968, is well-known in China and the West, comparatively little has been written about the pre-1966 peacetime transfers of urban Chinese youth to the countryside.
To correct this imbalance, my dissertation focuses on one of the most extreme examples of state-led, urban-to-rural resettlement in Chinese history: the moving of more than 100,000 young people from Eastern China to Xinjiang. Tracing the campaign from its inception in 1962 to its demise in 1966, I also follow the campaign’s participants into the early 1980s, when, after enduring the Cultural Revolution, they made impassioned pleas to return home.
Using the Xinjiang program as a case study, I argue that the Chinese state sought to transform the landscape of frontier China and the cityscapes of urban China through urban-to-rural population resettlement programs; later, it used the campaign to transform the minds and bodies of 100,000 young people. This agenda, however, was undone by the tumult of Chinese politics in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and by the resistance of the campaign participants themselves.
Though the population resettlement campaign was ultimately shortlived (lasting only several years) and the numbers of people relocated were small (relative to Cultural Revolution-era rustication), Chinese leaders had earlier envisioned it lasting indefinitely into the future and anticipated that ever greater numbes of urban youth would leave home each year for China’s countryside and frontier areas. Population resettlement in socialist China was thus part of a larger transformative agenda which aimed to radically reshape society, politics, economy, and environment.
My research is based on materials from over 20 archives in China as well as documents from several other archives in the former Soviet Union, the United States, and Europe. Other documents purchased from the “gray” market in the PRC, materials included in “neibu” (internal circulation) collections, and a plethora of memoirs supplement my archival findings.
Header image: the front cover of a colorized pictorial celebrating China’s urban youth in the countryside, probably published in the late 1960s or early 1970s.