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Revolution in Education

Peasants — College Graduates — Peasants

[This unsigned article is reprinted from Peking Review, #7, Feb. 14, 1975, pp. 13-15.]

SET up in 1970 in two mountain valleys dozens of kilometres from the seat of Chaoyang County in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, Chaoyang Agricultural College was part of the Shenyang Agricultural College in the provincial capital. It now has 1,200 students studying six specialities—agronomy, farmland water conservancy, farmland hydraulic engineering, farmland hydrology, pomiculture and forestry, animal husbandry and veterinary science.

Chairman Mao has said: “Students should be selected from among workers and peasants with practical experience, and they should return to production after a few years’ study.” In accordance with this instruction, Chaoyang College since 1971 has adopted the principle of enrolling students from rural people’s communes and assigning graduates back to their communes or brigades to be peasants. It has thus trained large numbers of working people with both socialist consciousness and a good grasp of agricultural science and technique, thereby providing experience for running socialist new-type agricultural colleges.

From Commune, Back to Commune

Education which is an important part of the superstructure serves the interests of a particular class. For thousands of years, all of old China’s exploiting classes advocated the doctrines of Confucius and Mencius and propagated that ”he who excels in learning can be an official.” Their aim was to train intellectuals in the service of the exploiting classes and make them bureaucrats riding roughshod over the labouring people as part of their scheme to consolidate their reactionary rule.

The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 signalled the day China’s labouring people became masters of their own country. It has since been understood that education should serve proletarian politics and conform to the socialist economic base and promote its development. However, before the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Liu Shao-chi’s revisionist line in education dominated universities and colleges, and the decadent concept that ”he who excels in learning can be an official” continued poisoning the minds of young people. The city-based Shenyang Agricultural College defined its task as training high-level ”agronomists and horticulturists,” or at least training agricultural scientists and technicians to work in research institutes above the county level. Teaching was separated from proletarian politics and rural class struggle, from the struggle for production and from scientific experiment. Some graduates were reluctant to work in the countryside and those who did go were not welcomed by the commune members as they could not solve practical farming problems.

Inspired by Chairman Mao’s call “Education should he revolutionized,” some cadres and teachers of Shenyang Agricultural College went to Chaoyang Prefecture in 1970 to run short-term courses for training agro-technicians while being re-educated by the poor and lower-middle peasants. Once in the countryside, they were deeply impressed by the peasants’ eagerness to improve cultivation methods and introduce scientific farming. They learnt that Chaoyang Prefecture, comprising about 2,000 production brigades, needed 20,000 agro-technicians annually for five years. At their proposal, Chaoyang Agricultural College was set up and it was decided to select students from among the poor and lower-middle peasants who had practical experience and train them into new-type peasants who would go back to production after a few years’ study.

There were strong repercussions over the way the college was going to be run. Those who had bourgeois ideas said: ”If we do things that way, people will look down on the school.” Outside the college, those who opposed it remarked: ”Who’ll want to be a peasant after graduating from a college?” They claimed that no one would enrol and that those who enrolled would not be willing to go back after graduation. However, rural cadres and commune members welcomed the college’s new approach and recommended their outstanding young people for enrolment. The Party branch secretary of one production brigade said: ”Before the Cultural Revolution, we wanted to send some of our youngsters to school to learn technique so that they might help promote farm production when they returned. But it was difficult to find such a school. Later, when we managed to send one student to study at a college in a big city, he didn’t return after graduation. Now that Chaoyang Agricultural College is using the system of from the commune and back to the commune, everything will be fine. We have already sent one young person to study there, another two went last spring, and we’re planning to send more.”

“Going” and ”Returning”

To make the system of from the commune and back to the commune effective, the old educational system and pedagogical principles and methods must be thoroughly reformed. Chaoyang College sets down the pedagogical method of ”going” and ”returning,” i.e., go to the college for classroom study and return to the country side to put what is learnt into practice. What they do there, how many times they go or return in a year and how long do they stay each time vary for different specialities and different classes. This method ensures that the students are in close touch with class struggle, the struggle for production and scientific experiment in the countryside.

“Learn from Tachai” is an important course at Chaoyang Agricultural College. The Tachai Brigade in Shansi Province, north China, is the national pace-setter in agriculture. Sticking to the socialist road and relying on their own efforts and hard struggle, the Tachai people have transformed their barren countryside into a prosperous socialist new village. The college Party committee often uses the Tachai spirit to educate the teachers and students. All specialities have set up their learn-from-Tachai bases, such as plots for obtaining high yields and conducting experiments, an orchard, a pig farm, a veterinary hospital. At these bases, students combine study, productive labour and scientific experiment and, through hard work, they get a better understanding of the Tachai spirit and gradually learn to build Tachai-type fields having high and stable yields.

The college has evolved a new ”three-in-one” system whereby teaching is linked with scientific research and production. Research subjects are chosen to solve farm problems in Chaoyang Prefecture and courses are centred around research topics as well as key production problems. In addition to having a good grasp of the necessary basic theories and techniques, students are required to take part in scientific research so that they can have some knowledge of how to carry out research work and scientific methods of farming.

An important feature of the college’s teaching system lies in its ”back to the field” practice. Generally speaking, during their three years of study, the students spend most of the first year, seven or eight months of the second year and four or five months of the third year in school and the rest in production brigades and teams for field practice. During their period of practice, students help the brigades or teams draw up their plans for production and scientific experiments, organize scientific experimental groups, run training classes, and sum up the experience gained in getting high yields. Every time they return to the villages the students, under the direction of the Party organization in the locality, take an active part in political activities and in the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius, join in collective productive labour and spread advanced agricultural techniques. Teachers make the rounds of the countryside to check and guide the students’ work in this period. Back in school, the students exchange and sum up their experience and raise it to a theoretical level.

The advantage of this system is that the students are able to make their contributions to farm production even before graduation. For example, the 289 students in the three specialities—agronomy, pomiculture and forestry, and animal husbandry and veterinary science—conducted more than 200 technical classes and trained 3,000 peasant agro-technicians for communes and production brigades last year and helped them organize 72 scientific experimental groups. They joined the peasants in cultivating 497 hectares of experimental plots for various purposes, treated 24,000 head of cattle and other domestic animals and artificially inseminated 1,200 head of draught animals.

During their term of field practice, the students also do propaganda and organization work among the peasants. This practice has put an end to the scene whereby the old schools kept students behind closed doors and separated them from proletarian politics, manual labour and the labouring people. The situation in which college students of the old type found themselves misfits among the peasants has been reversed. Practice not only deepens their grasp of theoretical knowledge acquired at school, but also helps them further their theoretical studies and acquire more skills.

Good Effects

The first group of students at Chaoyang Agricultural College graduated in January last year and returned to their communes or production brigades. The second group will soon graduate.

A college student must not only have culture and a grasp of science and technology, he must first and foremost be imbued with socialist ideas. When Chang Yao-chen returned to the production team in his native village after graduation, he often was assailed by the old ideology and old influence of society. Someone sneered: ”I’ve never seen a college graduate turn peasant.” He replied firmly: ”Why should a college graduate become a cadre and not a peasant? It’s my life-long wish to promote production on my native land together with my fellow villagers and bring about an all-round development in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, side-line occupations and fishery.” Active in criticizing Lin Piao and Confucius as well as in popularizing scientific farming, he has won the confidence of the peasants.

These peasant college graduates play a big part in promoting production because they are familiar with local conditions and have a certain amount of scientific theory and technique in agriculture. Before graduation, Chao Chung had become an adviser to his village team. By improving cultivation methods, he enabled the team’s two hectares of cotton fields to yield 900 kilogrammes each as against 285 originally. Chen Wen-chung, one of the first group of graduates, is now a group leader in the scientific experimental centre in his native place. He and the other members there are doing a good job in meteorological observation, forecasts of incidence of pests, soil fertility tests and experiments in irrigating dry land, breeding good strains and other measures to get high yields. Rural cadres and commune members are pleased with the work of the graduates. ”These college graduates,” they say, ”have a high level of political consciousness and are good at solving real problems. Their clothes are covered with dust and mud and their hands are callused. These are the agro-technicians we need.”

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