During the 1960's and 1970's the Chinese people were embroiled in an ideological conflict rooted in the Chinese Communist Party. At the heart of the struggle was Chairman Mao's attempt to retake power from what he viewed as revisionist forces in the party, such as Liu Shaoqi, and Deng Xiaoping. However, one of the many negative impacts of the Cultural Revolution affected the youth of China, especially those in the urban areas. Many universities were shut down and employment opportunities became increasingly grim for many young people. As a result young people took to the streets to take an active part in Mao's revolution. Known as the "red guards" they eventually became willing participants in what came to be called the Rustication Movement. However, over the rustication period participation became increasingly less willing as enthusiasm for Maoist ideals faded.
The Cultural Revolution embroiled China into an ideological conflict with many different angles. On one side the cult of Mao was at its peak, and on the other side moderate players such as Deng Xiaoping argued for a reforming of the party, economy, and the nation. The youth of China were active participants in the Cultural Revolution, leading to the formation of the Red Guards who strictly adhered to Maoist doctrine. However, over time their presence in China's largest cities proved problematic. Along with persistent employment problems among the youth exacerbating social problems in this group caused the communist party to enact the Rustication Movement. However, the sent-down youth, otherwise known as the Zhiqing, generation was not a homogeneous group, but instead came from diverse backgrounds especially in terms of class. Also the reasons the Zhiqing justified their own Rustication process were even more diverse.
The Rustication Movement happened in a very chaotic time for China. After years of famine and economic failure due to projects such as the Great Leap Forward food shortages as well as unemployment remained high especially in urban areas. To make matters worse many universities closed during the Cultural Revolution. Since many young people could not attend university, or find a job they spent their days taking an active role in the revolution. In the beginning Mao encouraged this because the Red Guards supported Mao’s line of Communist thought over more moderate party members. The Red Guard was made of up of young Chinese youth, they actively took to the streets, and openly opposed elements they viewed as subversive to the Maoist cause. However, over time these groups became somewhat problematic for Mao. Red Guard groups began to fight other Red Guard groups, as well as target certain members of society. Red Guards championed abandoning the “four olds”, custom, ideas, habits, and culture. They believed that it was a necessity for China to abandon certain elements from its past. This was in line with Mao’s belief of everyone being able to go their own path; this served the purpose of severing familial ties that could in turn work to reinstate the capitalist class. During the Cultural Revolution new emphasis was placed on family origins, and as a result five red and five black classes were created to separate the masses. The red classes were generally people who either took place in the revolution, were members of the Communist Party, or were poor peasants. On the other hand people belonging to the black classes were land owners, bad elements of society such as criminals, and people who were branded as either capitalist, or reformers of Maoist thought. The Red Guards took these class distinctions very seriously, and in turn caused a lot of trouble for members of the black classes. Along with internal threats to Communist control, Mao was also concerned with the threat of Soviet invasion. Ideological and political disputes led to a grave deterioration of relations between China, and the Soviet Union, especially in the early rustication period. All three factors, economic, political, and foreign helped push the Communist party towards Rustication.
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