Malcolm Moore
December 25, 2008

Forty years after millions of students were sent to the provinces during the Cultural Revolution, the economic downturn has forced students to head for rural areas once again.

A record 5.6 million students will graduate this year, according to government figures, and jobs are scarce. They will have to compete with the 700,000 graduates from 2007 who remain jobless. Major international companies are now receiving tens of thousands of desperate applications for every available post.

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In response, the Chinese government has turned the clock back to embrace Chairman Mao’s “Shang Shan Xia Xiang”, or “Climb the Mountains and Go down to the Villages” policy from 1968.

Almost 17 million teens were sent out of China’s cities in the belief that they would be transformed by living among ideologically pure peasants. Many members of China’s current leadership spent spells in the countryside, and President Hu Jintao helped build a dam on the Yellow River for a year.

The scheme continued until 1980, but was criticised as a means of expelling “class enemies”, or anyone who dared to dissent, from the centres of Chinese power.

Next year, however, the government “will recruit over 30,000 college graduates to go to rural and western regions to teach,” said the ministry of Education, adding that it had rapidly expanded the scheme in order to cope with the rising levels of unemployment.

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