As part of Mao's "up to the mountains and down to the villages" campaign, initiated in 1968 to quell civil unrest during the Cultural Revolution, all urban 16-year-olds were commanded to travel to rural villages to be schooled in hard agricultural labor. More than 20 million teenagers were sent to work in the countryside, often devoting more than a decade of their lives to farm labor. Not only did this deprive them of a formal education, but parting from their families was a heart-wrenching experience for most of the youngsters.
Students went to the countryside to learn from the peasants (or to the army or to mines etc.). This would make them good revolutionaries with the correct, proletarian attitudes, rather than stuck-up city folk. This happened from November 1968 onwards...There was no guarantee or arrangements for a return to their urban homes. Many made great efforts to find ways to return ASAP. Most had by 1978."
-Paul Clark, Student Email Interview
"...Three million people died because of the class struggle,...education was discontinued from pre-school to universities...[for] ten years...so it's a disaster."