Fudan University, Shanghai, China
The daily lives of the Sent-down youth (also known as “zhiqing,” or educated youth) have been an area of enduring scholarly interest. Recent scholarship has drawn attention to their everyday practices of resistance and subversion after they were transformed from “Mao’s Red Guards” into rusticated “new peasants” stuck in the countryside (Sun Peidong,2016; Guobin Yang,2016). This paper contributes to this scholarship by exploring how “zhiqing” experienced the gap between Maoist revolutionary ideals and the reality of rural life as miserable and despairing, and the wider historical significance of this despair. Drawing on the diaries, letters, and oral history of Wang Zongren, an educated youth from Shanghai, I show how material and social issues constituted major sources of everyday melancholy for the educated youth. Day in and day out, Wang agonized over his inability to earn more “work points” and his troubled relationship with local peasants. His worries eventually turned him from a Maoist “New Man” to an ordinary “old man”, signifying the triumph of the mundane over utopian. Wang Zongren’s case highlights how the sent-down generation’s daily experiences of despair contributed to the ultimate collapse of the ideological order of the Cultural Revolution.
Zhang Ning is a Ph.D. Candidate in the department of history at Fudan University. Her research interests are Political, social and cultural history of the People’s Republic of China, especially the history of the Cultural Revolution, the educated youth and the Sent-down campaign.