Eter­nal Son of the Loess Plateau

Xi­jin­ping’s seven years as an ed­u­cated youth

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents -

In De­cem­ber 1968, Mao Ze­dong, the core fig­ure of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China’s first-gen­er­a­tion lead­er­ship, de­clared that “it is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary for ed­u­cated young peo­ple to go to the coun­try­side to be reed­u­cated by poor and lower-mid­dle-class peas­ants.” In re­sponse to the call, mil­lions of “ed­u­cated youths” swarmed from cities to ru­ral ar­eas, stir­ring up a tide of ed­u­cated young ur­ban­ites go­ing to and work­ing in the coun­try­side or moun­tain­ous ar­eas. Xi Jin­ping, now gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, chair­man of the Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion, and pres­i­dent of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, was one of those ed­u­cated youths.

In Jan­uary 1969, when not yet 16 years old, Xi vol­un­teered to work in a small vil­lage named Liangji­ahe in Yanchuan County of the north­west­ern prov­ince of Shaanxi. He slept on an earthen bed in a cave dwelling and ate steamed corn bread along­side the lo­cal res­i­dents. It was there that he was ad­mit­ted into the CPC and be­came the vil­lage’s Party chief. He spent seven years work­ing in the vil­lage, un­til 1975 when he en­rolled in Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity.

Xi once said that his growth and progress started with his seven years in north­ern Shaanxi and that one of the big­gest lessons he learned there was to seek the truth from facts and serve the peo­ple—a phi­los­o­phy that con­tin­ues to ben­e­fit him to­day.

Over­com­ing “Four Ob­sta­cles”

Set­ting out from Bei­jing, Xi and 14 other ed­u­cated youths headed to Liangji­ahe. Af­ter a day and a night on a train, they took a truck and walked on foot for five kilo­me­ters along a moun­tain path be­fore ar­riv­ing at the vil­lage.

De­spite its name “Liangji­ahe” (lit­er­ally, “Liangjia River”), the vil­lage hadn’t a river, but a ditch in which a lit­tle dirty wa­ter might gather in the rainy sea­son. All of its 200-plus vil­lagers dwelled in “earth caves” built in the steep slopes on both sides of the ditch. The earthen beds and brick stoves that lo­cal folks used were un­fa­mil­iar to ed­u­cated youths who grew up in cities.

Xi was al­lot­ted an un­used cave dwelling to stay. He learned to sew clothes and quilts by him­self and be­came an ex­pert in farm­ing. Grad­u­ally, he in­te­grated with the land that fos­tered and cul­ti­vated his fore­fa­thers. In an ar­ti­cle, Xi men­tioned that he over­came “four ob­sta­cles” dur­ing his stay in the coun­try­side:

First, fleas. Dur­ing the sum­mers, fleas were ram­pant in Liangji­ahe. In the be­gin­ning, fleas trou­bled him so badly that he couldn’t sleep. Af­ter two years, he be­came so ac­cus­tomed to the sit­u­a­tion that he could eas­ily sleep through even the worst in­fes­ta­tion.

Sec­ond, food. Those in big cities ate foods made of re­fined rice and wheat flour, but only coarse foods were avail­able in the vil­lage. How­ever, Xi soon got ac­cus­tomed to lo­cal foods. Even to­day, he still misses ru­ral dishes of north­ern Shaanxi, es­pe­cially pick­led cab­bage.

Third, farm work. In the be­gin­ning, Xi earned gongfen (a unit used to mea­sure work­ing per­for­mance based on which la­bor­ers were paid in ru­ral China at that time) even less than what a fe­male farmer earned. Two years later, he could earn 10 gongfen a day (the high­est level that an in­di­vid­ual could achieve) and be­came an ex­pert in farm­ing.

Fourth, ide­o­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, Xi learned the spirit of seek­ing truth from facts and over­com­ing hard­ship through hard work by liv­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with lo­cal farm­ers. The lo­cals soon saw and treated him as one of their own.

Serv­ing the Peo­ple

Xi joined the CPC in Jan­uary 1974. Liang Yum­ing, a farmer and Party mem­ber in Liangji­ahe Vil­lage, rec­om­mended Xi for Party mem­ber­ship. Liang re­called that he rec­om­mended Xi “be­cause Xi per­formed ex­cel­lently with a down-to-earth spirit as a man of ideas who con­sol­i­dated the peo­ple and vil­lage of­fi­cials.”

Soon af­ter he was ad­mit­ted into the CPC, Xi was elected sec­re­tary of the Party branch of Liangji­ahe Vil­lage. The in­fer­tile loess land of north­ern Shaanxi fea­tures criss­cross­ing gul­lies, a dry cli­mate and sparse veg­e­ta­tion. Xi led vil­lagers in per­form­ing two tasks that rad­i­cally trans­formed the harsh liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment plagu­ing lo­cal farm­ers in Liangji­ahe for gen­er­a­tions.

The first mis­sion was dig­ging wells and build­ing four dams to help store wa­ter for drink­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion. A vil­lager still clearly re­mem­bers watch­ing Xi in a “blue, old cot­ton-padded jacket with a blast­ing fuse tucked un­der his belt.” It was early spring when the ice and snow had just melted. Xi could often be seen work­ing at the con­struc­tion sites of the dams with his trousers rolled up, stand­ing in chilly wa­ter with bare feet. “His hands were blis­tered due to hard work, but he never com­plained,” the vil­lager added.

The sec­ond mis­sion was build­ing meth­ane tanks to help the vil­lage solve prob­lems re­lated to fuel and light­ing. In Au­gust 1974, af­ter a sur­vey­ing trip in Sichuan, Xi led vil­lagers to build Shaanxi Prov­ince’s first meth­ane tank in Liangji­ahe, which had ca­pac­ity of eight cu­bic me­ters.

To­day, a stone stele marks the site of the “first meth­ane tank of Shaanxi Prov­ince” at the en­trance to Liangji­ahe Vil­lage. Its inscription reads: “In the early 1970s, to an­swer the call of the state to vig­or­ously de­velop meth­ane fuel in ru­ral ar­eas, vil­lagers built 60 meth­ane tanks un­der the lead­er­ship of Xi Jin­ping, then sec­re­tary of the vil­lage’s Party branch. This meth­ane tank is one of them.”

The wells that Xi dug in Liangji­ahe still pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter for lo­cal vil­lagers, and one of the four dams he built there re­mains in use.

Eter­nal Son of the Loess Plateau

Many vil­lagers re­mem­ber the day Xi left Liangji­ahe: Oc­to­ber 7, 1975.

In 1972, ed­u­cated youths in the vil­lage be­gan to re­turn to the cities from which they came. Xi was one of the last to leave. He left the vil­lage be­cause he had been ad­mit­ted to Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity, one of the most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties in China.

At the time, rec­om­men­da­tion for en­roll­ment at a col­lege or uni­ver­sity had to be dis­cussed in a meet­ing of vil­lagers. For Xi, ev­ery vil­lager cast an af­fir­ma­tive vote.

When he first ar­rived at Liangji­ahe, Xi lugged a heavy bag of books. Vil­lagers re­mem­ber him as not only hard­work­ing and wise, but also de­voted to learn­ing and study­ing. He often read books “as thick as bricks” late into the night in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. When ris­ing the next morn­ing, “he coughed up black mu­cus” af­ter breath­ing in so much smoke from the kerosene lamp.

Xi has read a broad range of books, from Marx­ist clas­sics, his­tory books and in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal works to lit­er­ary master­pieces. When he was young, he cul­ti­vated a stu­dious spirit and good read­ing habits as well as strong log­i­cal think­ing abil­i­ties, which have con­tin­ued ben­e­fit­ing him through­out his life.

As Xi wrote in an ar­ti­cle, he felt per­plexed when ar­riv­ing at the “yel­low earth” at the age of 15, but upon leav­ing at 22, he was con­fi­dent and tightly em­brac­ing the goal of serv­ing the peo­ple.

A photo taken on Septem­ber 25, 2014 shows the earthen bed in a cave dwelling where Xi Jin­ping slept dur­ing his stay in Liangji­ahe Vil­lage. Pho­tos of Xi as an ed­u­cated youth still hang on the wall. IC

A photo taken on Septem­ber 27, 2013 shows a meth­ane tank, the first of its kind in Shaanxi Prov­ince. In 1974, Xi Jin­ping, then sec­re­tary of the Party branch of Liangji­ahe Vil­lage, led vil­lagers to build the meth­ane tank to solve prob­lems re­lated to fuel and light­ing. VCG

A 2014 photo shows Wen'anyi Town in Yanchuan County, Shaanxi Prov­ince. The town is only 7.5 kilo­me­ters from Liangji­ahe Vil­lage, where Xi Jin­ping spent seven years as an ed­u­cated youth. Xin­hua

A 2016 photo shows Kang­ping Vil­lage, 22 kilo­me­ters away from ur­ban Yan'an, Shaanxi Prov­ince, where 14 ed­u­cated youths from Bei­jing ever lived. In 1969, more than 26,000 ed­u­cated youths from Bei­jing ar­rived in ru­ral ar­eas of Yan'an to “be reed­u­cated by poor and lower-mid­dle- class peas­ants.” VCG

In 1975, ev­ery vil­lager in Liangji­ahe cast an af­fir­ma­tive vote to rec­om­mend Xi Jin­ping for en­roll­ment at Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity. This is a group photo of Xi Jin­ping and some vil­lagers be­fore he left. IC

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