The Down to the Countryside Movement was a policy instituted in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by Mao Zedong in the 1960s and '70s. Although it's known as "Down to the Countryside" in English, the exact translation from the original Chinese term is "up to the mountains and down to the villages." Young people from the city were sent to work in villages in order to remove any bourgeois or privileged sentiments and reduce the urban population. This had generally negative physical and psychological effects on the people involved. After Mao's death in 1976, many of the people who were involved in the project were able to return home.
During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the officials of the Maoist regime were very anti-bourgeoisie, believing that revolutionary force that would lead the world toward socialism could be found in the peasant farm workers. These officials decided to re-educate young urban people being brought up in privileged families by sending them into small towns in the mountains and farming villages. They were usually sent off in this manner after completing their high school education. There, the youths would work, and the intention was that their privileged viewpoints would be eradicated, or at least tempered, by what they learned from their work in the country.
In practical terms, this policy was designed to reduce unrest in urban areas that had arisen in response to the early years of the Cultural Revolution. The social structure of many areas had been destroyed by the government's anti-hierarchical policies, with people being arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Many people were unhappy with the witch hunting that went on in the early 1960s as well as the fanaticism of the Red Guards, who were groups of students who idolized Mao. They were known for their often-brutal behavior and arbitrary attacks on those they felt were capitalists or bourgeois. By sending the educated youth, many of whom were Red Guards, out of the cities, Mao hoped to soothe the urban unrest.
There were also a number of practical concerns that Mao hoped to solve with the Down to the Countryside Movement, including urban overpopulation and unemployment. He also hoped to boost agricultural production and develop the rural areas of the country. Moving mass numbers of people out of the cities would help with urban overpopulation and, consequently, reduce the number of people who needed jobs there. Since most of those people were put to work on farms and development projects, agricultural production could also be boosted and the frontier developed.
Though the sudden mass movement of people from the cities did reduce overcrowding and unemployment, it had many negative effects on those who were sent away. Those who were affected by the Down to the Countryside Movement are often referred to as the "lost generation," since many of them had no chance to attend university. It also removed them from their friends, families, and all that was familiar, and many had long-term psychological problems from the sudden loss of their former lives. Additionally, many people who participated in the movement had long-term health problems because of the poor living conditions in their work sites.