From 1963 through 1966, more than 100,000 middle and high school students from China’s largest cities moved to Xinjiang, the Chinese frontier. Known as China’s “educated youth,” these teenagers were part of an ambitious state-led, urban-to-rural population resettlement project which aimed to transform people and place during China’s high socialist era. Intended as a project of permanent resettlement with an ever-expanding number of participants, the campaign came to an abrupt halt in the autumn of 1966 and withered slowly over the next several decades. The Chinese Communist Party’s will to change urban China, frontier China, and the minds and bodies of the nation’s youth was consistently tested by the tumult of its own making as well as by the resistance of the campaign participants themselves. Based on research at 20 archives in China, this dissertation presents a history of this urban-to-rural population resettlement program from its inception in the 1950s and 1960s to its bitter end in the 1970s and 1980s. It offers a revisionist account of the origins of the campaign, focusing on demographics, economics, and ideology rather than ethnicity or international security. It exposes the gulf between party-state rhetoric and lived reality and the challenges of acculturating urban peoples to rural environs through a close analysis of the on-the-ground experiences of the “educated youth” in Xinjiang. Finally, the dissertation uncovers how the Cultural Revolution disrupted and altered urban-to-rural resettlement in socialist China and how, in early reform era, the “educated youth” attempted to chart their own futures by resisting the party-state’s mandates.
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