China Elevator Stories

Up To The Mountains And Down To The Countryside – My Mother-In-Law, The Educated Youth

In July 1975, my mother-in-law is sent to the countryside in what is called the “Up to the mountains and down to the countryside” movement during the Cultural Revolution.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


She is one of many young adults who are referred to as educated youth (知识青年). She didn’t go to university, but it doesn’t take more than a high school education to count as educated youth. She isn’t the first educated youth to arrive in the village she is sent to either. The one who has stayed longest in the village in 1975 had arrived there 9 years earlier.

Every morning between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m., loudspeakers that are installed at every house’s main door wake up the villagers and everyone gets ready for work. They have no machines. The only tools available simple scythes and people’s bare hands.

Nowadays in Austria, there is usually no fieldwork in winter, but when my MIL is sent to China’s countryside at the age of 20, this is not how it works. Corn is brought in from the fields in autumn, but since there is too much field work to do before the start of Northeast China’s long and cold winters, harvesting corn stalks is kept for winter. With the first snow, the villagers – including the educated youth – can still be seen working in the fields. My MILs hands are cracked and show small wounds, but she is determined to keep on working.

My MIL is luckier than one of the other educated youths who has been sent there. In her village, there is a young man from Shanghai. One winter day, the guy is drawing a heavy cart loaded with the harvest. The road is icy; the guy slips and the cart slides out of control, crushing him beneath its wheels.

At age 23, after 39 months of living and doing hard work in the countryside, my mother-in-law is finally allowed to move back to the city. Three years later, she marries my father-in-law.

Have you ever met anybody who has been sent to the countryside during the cultural revolution?

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