Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Exiled Pilgrims: Memoirs of Pre-Cultural Revolution Zhiqing

Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Exiled Pilgrims: Memoirs of Pre-Cultural Revolution Zhiqing

Article excerpt

Deng, Peng, ed. Exiled Pilgrims: Memoirs of Pre-Cultural Revolution Zhiqing. Boston, MA: Brill, 2015.

This book is a collection of thirty-two gripping personal accounts by a group of zhiqing (educated youth who were sent down) that detail their extraordinary experiences during a pivotal period in Chinese history. While there is no shortage of historical literature on the sent-down youth during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), this volume clearly distinguishes itself from the rest with its focus on the lives of zhiqing who were dispatched to rural areas prior to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in August 1966. Collectively, the authors of these accounts have documented the lives of young men and women who were either compelled to join the movement because of their class background or who chose to do so in their idealistic pursuit of a Utopia that was peddled to them through relentless political propaganda. Illustrated with photos and drawings that evince historical memories and bring a sense of immediacy to readers, these stories are vivid, captivating, deeply moving, and profoundly sobering all at once.

Contrary to the common assumption that the zhiqing movement began during the Cultural Revolution, the contributors to this book attest to the fact that it actually started earlier. It was a campaign that set the stage for a decadelong nightmare for tens of thousands of Chinese young people. Compared to their counterparts who were sent to rural China in subsequent years, these pre-Cultural Revolution zhiqing were sent down primarily because of their undesirable family background. The 1.3 million pre-Cultural Revolution zhiqing, who were victims of political and economic expediency in the face of the government's efforts to reduce an urban unemployment rate that had been made worse by Mao's policies that encouraged unchecked population growth, suffered physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Many survived, some did not.

The editor, who also serves as translator, has done a superb job of organizing the individual narratives into four parts with distinctive yet overlapping themes. Together they delve into the reasons the young men and women participated in the pre-Cultural Revolution zhiqing movement, their experiences in the rural areas, and their journey back to the cities toward the end of the Cultural Revolution. A recurring theme that threads through all the stories is the fact that these teenagers were ruthlessly manipulated by an all-powerful political machine. Programed to believe in the infallibility of the Communist Party and propelled by their youthful idealism and desire to be "true revolutionaries," some answered the call of the party by becoming voluntary participants in the movement (p. 43). Others were forced to join the campaign because they were sons and daughters of the "exploiter" class of landlords or rich peasants, because their parents were intellectuals who had opposed early PRC policies, or because a member of their extended family had served in the Nationalist Army or their family had overseas connections.

A second commonality that underscores these personal experiences is the harsh reality the unsuspecting urban youth experienced and their resultant sense of betrayal, disillusionment, and abandonment. …

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