January 14, 1966: Traversing Mountains to Deliver the Mail

Most of the January 14th issue of the People’s Daily was dominated by coverage of the Vietnam War and criticism of President Johnson’s “Great Society.”

1966011404a5.jpg
Johnson fills in the foundation of the Great Society with dollar bills

Towards the back of the paper on page 5 of 6 is a letter sent by a postman in Heilongjiang. This postal worker had grown up in a commune in Shandong, and as he had received a few years of education had filled the relatively privileged role of bookkeeper in the commune. In 1959, following the call of the party to aid in socialist construction in the border regions, the young man left his home town in Shandong and emigrated to the North Eastern province Heilongjiang, where he became a postal worker, delivering letters, magazines, and newspapers. His postal route was very long and sparsely populated, and difficult. When he found his work too difficult, and his motivation lagging, he remember the Mao Zedong quote: “What is work? Work is struggle.” Difficult work would help to forge his revolutionary thought. After studying the Mao essays “For the People” and “In Memory of Dr. Norman Bethune” he realized that he had forgotten how the party had cultivated him, and that his thinking represented bourgeois individualistic characteristics. Through hard work and study of Mao Zedong thought he was able to greatly improve his postal work. The letter goes to lengths to the describe the trials and tribulations he had faced as a postal worker in Heilongjiang, and how the teaching of Mao Zedong thought had helped to successfully guide him.

At Play at the Time

While mirroring language of the Learn from Comrade Lei Feng movement, the content of the letter is significant because it presages the “Up to the Mountains down to the Country Side movement” which started two years later. After 1949 the Communist Party had occasionally launched campaigns to get young people to move from their home-places, often in cities, to the countryside, often emphasizing border regions that they wished to populate with Han Chinese for strategic and economic reasons, including to resolve food shortages in cities following the Great Leap Forward. This sort of story of the heroic youth who goes to live in the north eastern “wastelands” in service of the party, and tempers his revolutionary thought and will through hard work and study, was used as a model to recruit idealistic youth to move to the countryside. It pushes home the message that the best way to learn revolutionary thought is through practicing and studying Mao Zedong thought in real life.

Abbie adds: Postmen often provided key links in mountain areas with poor transportation infrastructure. The importance of creating links among mass struggles was later a key impetus to the red guard movement which promoted the importance of “Mass Linkups.”

The unique roll of the rural postman in China was  explored in the movie, Postmen in The Mountains (1999), set in the 1980s, exploring a generational and political transition between a father and son working as postmen:

 See: https://youtu.be/jPOy6Doq22w?list=PL2213EF009F81FF01&t=481

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