Colleges reopened their doors in the early 1970s after stopping admissions in 1966. In the fall of 1973 both Ma Xiaodong and I went back to Beijing to attend college. We felt luckier than most of our peers who didn’t have the opportunity to resume formal education. We went to college via recommendations instead of taking an entrance examination. Once in college we were bestowed a glorifying title: “worker–peasant–soldier students.” This title reflected the composition of the student body. Rather than recruiting current high school graduates, colleges now only admitted people with practical experience.1 After five years of country life, we earned the qualification of “peasant” (me) and “farm worker” (Ma) respectively. The new recruitment policy reflected the Cultural Revolution leaders’ decision to reform higher education, which was considered a stronghold of bourgeois revisionist thinking. In reality, however, this policy was inherently arbitrary and prone to abuse. Moreover the emphasis on political rather than academic criteria resulted in a great disparity in the levels of preparation among the students and made teaching very challenging. It also created tension in the student body.
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