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The illiterate former vice premier: Chen Yonggui

CPC Encyclopedia

The illiterate former vice premier: Chen Yonggui

Born: February 14, 1915
Xiyang county, Shanxi province

Died: March 26, 1986

Occupation: Former Vice Premier of the State Council

Political Party: Communist Party of China (Joined in 1948)

Chen Yonggui, male, Han nationality, was a politician of the People's Republic of China. Though he was an illiterate peasant, he became a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China and Vice Premier of the State Council because of the leadership he provided in turning Dazhai into a model for socialist agriculture.

Chen Yonggui was born in 1915 as the son of a poor peasant who moved to Dazhai village in Xiyang county, Shanxi province when Chen Yonggui was 6 years old and later hanged himself. This situation forced Chen Yonggui to start working at a very young age to make a living, so he never received a formal education.

In the 1940s, he eagerly took part in the "land reform movement" against landlords and joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1948.

In 1952, Chen Yonggui was appointed secretary of the CPC branch committee of Dazhai. He led a peasant movement to turn the harsh environment surrounding Dazhai into an environment favorable for agriculture. The plan was a success and grain output began to increase steadily, going from from 237 kilograms per mu (3,555 kilograms per hectare) in 1952 to 774 kg per mu (11,610 kg per hectare) in 1962. This progress was halted by a series of natural disasters in 1963, which destroyed 1,092.6 mu (72.8 hectares) of arable land as well as some of the production brigade's buildings. Despite this setback, the brigade refused any help from the state and completed rebuilding efforts in one year.

All of this came to the attention of Mao Zedong, who declared Dazhai was an example to be followed in the field of self-reliance, launching the directive: "Learn from Dazhai in agriculture". In December 1964, while attending the 3rd National People's Congress, Chen Yonggui had a dinner with Mao Zedong himself.

When the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) began, Dazhai's model was emphasized even more. During a meeting with Zhou Enlai, Chen Yonggui was encouraged to create Dazhai's own Red Guard organization, which was later established under the name, "Central Shanxi Field Army". He was appointed vice-chairman of the Shanxi Revolutionary Committee in 1967; in the same year, the Cultural Revolution Group approved his "five recommendations" for conducting the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) in rural areas, published in the CPC Central Committee Document No 339. In 1969 he was elected as a member of the CPC Central Committee and a secretary of the CPC Shanxi Committee in 1971. He once again gained Mao Zedong's approval in 1972 by firmly opposing CPC Shanxi First Secretary Xie Zhenhua's request to downgrade the Dazhai production brigade to a production team.

Chen was illiterate until he was 43, but using Mao Zedong's writings as a textbook, he became well-versed in revolutionary theory. From 1973 until 1980, he was a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, and from 1975 until 1980, he even served as one of China's vice premiers.

When Chen Yonggui was vice premier, he refused to transfer his household registration to Beijing, and his total income was only 137.5 yuan per month. But there were several guests everyday who visited him, and his income was not enough, so he had to eat a bowl of rice with some Chinese pickled vegetables as his meal. In 1974, Chen Yonggui lived in Diaoyutai, where there were three attendants, one chef, one driver, several bodyguards and some secretaries served for him, making him feel very uncomfortable. He even tried to take them back to Dazhai to do farm work.

In the late 1970s, the model status of Dazhai and Chen Yonggui increasingly became clouded. He spent the rest of his life working as a farm advisor in the outskirts of Beijing. He died on March 26, 1986 aged 71 for a lung cancer.