Shaanxi villagers fondly recall Xi Jinping’s time there as an ‘educated youth’

By Study Times Source:Agencies Published: 2017/1/2 19:18:39

The cave house Xi Jinping used to live in Photo: CFP

The cave house Xi Jinping used to live in Photo: CFP

Villagers clean a square in front of the house in which educated youth used to stay. Photo: CFP

Villagers clean a square in front of the house in which "educated youth" used to stay. Photo: CFP


Xi Jinping spent seven years as an "educated youth" in Liangjiahe village, Shaanxi Province

While there, he led the villagers in accomplishing a few things to improve their living standards

The villagers have kept in touch with him till this day 

In early 1969, the then 15-year-old Xi Jinping, now General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chinese President, was sent to Liangjiahe, a small village in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, as part of the "Down to the Countryside Movement." In this movement, educated young people from urban areas went to live and work in China's remote villages and borderlands.

Xi spent seven years in the village and became one with the villagers. They worked and ate together. He went from being a teenager with no knowledge of rural life to the village's Party secretary, leading villagers in accomplishing practical and pioneering works like building a methane pool, erecting a dam and liberating the workforce.

Shi Chunyang, the village's Party secretary today, still remembers vividly the changes Xi brought to the village and shares stories of Xi's time in Liangjiahe.

Adapting to rural life

Shi first met Xi in January 1969. He was on an assignment to greet the zhiqing (educated young people who were sent by the government to work in remote rural communities in the 1960s and 70s) in Beijing and take them to Liangjiahe.

There were 15 Beijing youths assigned to Liangjiahe, 11 of whom were male. They were divided into two working groups and Xi belonged to the second group. Shi's father was a cook for Xi's group.

It took some time for the young urbanites who were accustomed to the capital's higher standards of living to adapt to the hardships of rural life.

They had to live and eat with the locals. The food was poor and scarce. They had to use dirty public bathrooms. On cold winter days, they froze in the bathrooms and in the depths of summer the toilets stank horribly, with flies zooming around. Several of the boys had to share one bed.

Xi worked in the fields every day, and gradually adapted to village life. In his early days in Liangjiahe, his legs were always red and swollen with lice bites.

"I noticed that his legs were full of red lumps left by lice. Some had scabbed over and some were scratched to the point of bleeding. After a few days, Xi wasn't afraid of lice anymore. Like all countrymen, he developed immunity to the toxin of lice," Shi said.

After two years, most of the Beijing zhiqing returned to the city, but Xi stayed and seemed to become a member of their family, he added.

Becoming Party secretary

Liangjiahe villager Wang Xianping recalled that in one meeting, Xi mentioned that "Youth who are illiterate and reluctant to study have no way out. I will run a literacy class and organize people together to study."

The villagers were happy as most of them didn't even know basic Chinese characters.

Xi wrote some simple Chinese characters on cards and gradually taught villagers more.

Wang said Xi used the time after dinner and raining days when people couldn't work to host literacy classes.

In Shi's eyes, Xi had many merits that made him stand out from the crowd. He said Xi is also a good learner. He often made inquiries about the village and learned from villagers how to do farm work.

Because of his achievements in work and good relationship with villagers, he was sent by Tao Haili, the secretary of Youth League Committee of Yanchuan County, to Zhaojiahe for half a year's socialist education. Shortly upon his return, he was chosen as the Party secretary of the village.

"Choosing a leader like him is convincing. He got along with villagers so well and had a strong mass base," said Shi.

Before becoming village Party secretary, Xi had many plans and ideas for the village's development. He was thinking about building a dam, terracing, digging a well and increasing grain production. He shared his plans with villagers. At that time, some older men were conservative and were resistant towards new things, but Xi was able to convince them.

Shi said another advantage of Xi becoming the village's leader was that as he is from Beijing, he can be impartial to every clan in the village, winning trust of the people.



Serving the villagers

The first thing Xi undertook after becoming village Party secretary was to harness local methane resources. He learned how to build a methane pool when he was on a research and study tour to Mianyang, Sichuan Province.

He then researched the weather and environment in Yanchuan to develop a plan to use those techniques in the village.

Xi built a methane pit near the yard where the zhiqing lived and used cement to build a pool. While experiencing some setbacks, the biogas pool was successfully completed, which solved the village's fuel problem.

After the popularization of methane, the first methane lamp was lit in Liangjiahe, the first such lamp used in northern Shaanxi. After that the village used methane to cook and illuminate their homes. The manure left over from the pool was also used to fertilize crops, recalled Shi.

After noticing some commune workers were able to forge iron, Xi set up a blacksmithing club. So when the commune's workers need tools, they didn't need to travel a long way.

Besides this, he opened a sales center in the village. It used to take villagers a day's travel to buy things at the Wenanyi People's Commune. One day, Xi summoned the villagers for a meeting.

"Our villagers need to go a whole day to buy a thing, which is very inconvenient. For daily necessities like kerosene, we absolutely can take some back from the Wenanyi purchasing cooperative and sell them en masse in the village. Thereafter we can settle accounts at fixed periods according to bills," he said in the meeting.

All the locals were supportive and Xi then led them to open the sales center as soon as possible. The center had basic living necessities including kerosene, matches, soap, salt, candies and many other things.

Cooperating with other governmental organizations was not easy.

"Xi was then only a 20-year-old. He had the people in his heart and a fearless spirit. He overcame all the difficulties and got the job done eventually," said Shi.

Xi was rigorous in his policies. The iron workshop didn't charge people for making and mending agricultural tools. The sales store first bought wholesale commodities on credit and then sold them to commune workers at their original price.

In two years' time, Xi did lots of good things for villagers like this. He also opened a sewing club, assembling women to make and mend clothes together.

Care for the people

When Xi first became village Party secretary, Liangjiahe got a batch of relief grain.

When it came time to allocate the grain, the villagers all claimed that their families were the poorest and needed more grain. They ended up quarreling in the meeting.

"Don't yell any more. Now let's go to every household to check how much grain you have left. Then it will be clear who should be allocated more and who should be allocated less," said Xi.

From 10 pm to 5 am the next morning, Xi led the villagers in recording the amount of grain in each household, leaving people with no time to rush home to hide their grain.

When people were talking about this later, they all said that if another person was in his position, he won't dare to do this. "And even if he dared, the villagers wouldn't listen," Shi said.

Xi kept in touch with Liangjiahe after he left in 1975. Xi wrote letters and Shi replied several times.

In the letters, Xi asked about the living situation of the common people every time. "What he cared most about is the people's livelihood," said Shi.

In 2009, when Xi, then vice president of the country, came to survey Yan'an, Shaanxi, Shi was one of several villagers who were invited to a meeting.

Before Spring Festival 2015, Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan went to Liangjiahe together.

He asked about fruit production and the social security of the village's elderly residents.

That day, when Shi stood in an orchard with Xi, he said he could see his happiness with Liangjiahe.

He only stayed a few hours in Liangjiahe and what he said and asked was all about the basic living situation of the common people. From this, the villagers could see he is practical and sincere, and what he truly cares about.

"No matter whether he was the Party secretary of our village back then or now the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPC, at the center of his heart is always the common people," Shi said.


Newspaper headline: Memories of a president


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