Chen Yonggui

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Chen Yonggui in 1966

Chen Yonggui (Chinese: 陈永贵; pinyin: Chén Yǒngguì; Wade–Giles: Ch'en Yung-kuei; 14 February 1915 – 26 March 1986) was a Chinese politician. Though he was an illiterate peasant, he became a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China and Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China because of the leadership he provided in turning Dazhai into a model for socialist agriculture.[1]

Early years[edit]

Chen Yonggui was born in 1915 as the son of a poor peasant, who moved to Dazhai when 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 formal education.

In 1942, as fighting against communist guerrilla increased in Shanxi Province, where Xiyang County encompassing Dazhai is located, the Japanese tightened their grip on local villages and Chen Yonggui was elected Dazhai representative in the puppet Rejuvenating Asia Society, but resigned and left the village after barely surviving a one-year detention in a concentration camp in 1943–1944. Because of this, he was briefly detained as a suspected collaborationist after Japan's defeat, but soon released.

He eagerly took part at the "land reform movement" against landlords and joined the Communist Party of China in 1948.[2]

The Dazhai period[edit]

Statue of Chen Yonggui in Dazhai

In 1952 Chen Yonggui was appointed secretary of the CPC branch committee of Dazhai, succeeding Jia Jincai. He led a peasant movement to turn the harsh environment surrounding Dazhai into an environment favourable to agriculture. The plan was a success and later grain output increased steadily, passing from 237 kg per mu in 1952 to 774 kg per mu in 1962. This progress was brutally halted by a series of natural disasters in 1963, which destroyed 180 acres 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 that 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.

Chen Yonggui getting greeted by Red Guards during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966

When the Cultural Revolution began, Dazhai's model was emphasized even more.[3] 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 "Jinzhong 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 in rural areas, published in the CPC Central Committee Document No. 339. In 1969 he was elected 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 Shanxi Revolutionary Committee chairman Xie Zhenhua's request to downgrade the Dazhai production brigade to production team.

CPC central leader[edit]

In 1973 he was elected a member of the CPC Politburo and transferred to Beijing.[4] He was concurrently secretary of the CPC Xiyang Committee and the CPC Jinzhong Committee. His post as Dazhai Party branch secretary was taken by 22-year-old Guo Fenglian.

In January 1975 Chen Yonggui was appointed a vice-premier of the State Council; in March he led a government delegation to Mexico; in September he delivered the keynote speech to the First National Conference for Learning From Dazhai in Agriculture, chaired by fellow vice-premier and next paramount leader Hua Guofeng. He devoted 1/3 of his time to inspection tours, 1/3 to farm work in Dazhai, and 1/3 to work in Beijing; this program was approved by Mao Zedong. Being in charge of agricultural policy, he suggested that Gansu Province adopt the same method employed by Dazhai, but this didn't produce expected results.

Downfall and later life[edit]

Chen Yonggui was re-elected to the CPC Politburo in 1977 and vice-premier in 1978 (in the same year he visited Democratic Kampuchea). Despite this, his views were more and more at odds with Deng Xiaoping's rising authority: as Deng moved to consolidate his position, Chen Yonggui proposed to abolish private plots, calling them the "tail of capitalism". His refusal to approve private plots and carry out the "Seeking truths from facts" campaign (aimed at repudiating the Cultural Revolution) in Dazhai cost him his posts in the party leadership in Jinzhong and Xiyang in 1979; he was dismissed from the State Council in 1980 in a government reshuffle (when Hua Guofeng lost the premiership), and was not reelected as a Central Committee member in 1982.[5]

Chen Yonggui spent the rest of his life working as a farm advisor in the eastern suburb of Beijing.[6] He died of lung cancer on 26 March 1986, aged 71.

Personal life[edit]

Chen Yonggui married Li Huni, daughter of a fellow poor peasant in 1941. Chen Mingzhu was born out of this marriage in 1943. Li Huni died out of cancer in 1965. Chen Yonggui remarried with Song Yuling in 1966. Their son, Chen Mingliang, was born in 1969 but migrated to Australia in 1996.


  1. ^ Feng Dongshu, Wenmang zaixiang Chen Yonggui, Beijing: Zhongguo Wenlianchubanshe, 2001.
  2. ^ Chen Chunnmei, Wode yeye Chen Yonggui: congnongmin dao guowuyuan fuzongli [My Grandfather Chen Yonggui: from Peasant to Vice Premier]. Beijing: Zuojia Chubanshe, 2008.
  3. ^ Mitch Meisner, “Dazhai: The Mass Line in Practice.” Modern China (Vol. 4, No. 1), 1978, pp. 27-62.
  4. ^ Li Jingping, Chen Yonggui zhuan [Biography of Chen Yonggui]. Beijing: Dangdaizhogguo Chubanshe, 2009.
  5. ^ Qin Huailu, Zhamaojin de fu zongli: Chen Yonggui [The Vice Premier with a White Towel on his Head]. Beijing: Dangdaizhongguo Chubanshe, 1993.
  6. ^ Patrick Fuliang Shan, "Chen Yonggui Revisited: Intriguing Figure, Diverse Identities, and Maoist Regimentation," American Journal of Chinese Studies, (Vol. 25, no. 1, April 2018), pp. 31-46.