Places, aswell as people, were designated as models to follow in the creation of a New China. Their example was spread through Mao's writings, propaganda and thousands of visitors everyday observing and taking what they saw back to their own units.
In the late 1980's the Dazhai model was discredited as it emerged that the work at Dazhai had not relied upon peasant manpower alone, but had made use of the army and heavy machinery to cultivate the land. The model had also failed in areas of the country that had very different geological and weather conditions, such as where land was already prone to flooding.
In 1964 Dazhai Production Team in Shanxi was designated as the national model for agricultural production when Mao declared "农业学大寨 In agriculture, learn from Dazhai."
Led by Chen Yonggui the Team cleared infertile land and terraced hillsides to create fertile, productive land that could withstand floods and drought. They used their ingenuity to create irrigation systems and their hardwork and manpower to install them. The key to their success, according to the propaganda, was self-reliance and dedication, fuelled by hard physical labour.
Irrespective of local conditions all agricultural production was exhorted to follow Dazhai's example and, by the 1970's, around 20,000 visitors a day made the pilgrimage to study this model of self-reliance. It was the benchmark of success, and an emanation of the theoretical basis found in one of Mao's 3 Constantly Read Articles "The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains" written in 1939.
In 1964 Mao pronounced a model for industry, "工业学大庆 In industry, learn from Daqing." Situated in Heilongjiang, between Qiqihar and Harbin, explorations in the Daqing oilfield had begun in 1959 and their success was lauded as a sign of independence from the Soviet Union and of China's capacity for self-sufficiency.
Over 40,000 workers were sent to Daqing in 1960 to wage the battle for oil. The primary example of the bravery, hardwork, ingenuity and tirelessness needed for success was Wang Jinxin, The Ironman of Daqing. He, leading Team 1205, is credited with the discovery of the first major oil seam
Daqing proved to be a major asset for China, revealing massive oil reserves. In 2018 output was reported to be falling (32million tons, the peak being 50million tons in 1976) but it is still used as a model for the 'Daqing Spirit' or 'Ironman Spirit' indicating a capacity to never give up the struggle, no matter how extreme the difficulties. There was, for example, a revival of "Daqing Spirit" following the events in Beijing in 1989.
The main canal was built by manpower, with workers using long steel chisels and sldge hammers, with the construction debris being removed in baskets on shoulder poles. Dynamite was used to blast the rock, with fuses set by hand by workers often suspended on ropes. An excellent example of a Mao Period documentary shows the intensity of this work and the irrigation results it produced. There are several more recent documentaries about the project, this CCTV programme from 2016 has English subtitles.
Red Flag Canal
Like Daqing and Dazhai, the Red Flag Canal was a model that demonstrated the theoretical position Mao adopted through his Three Constantly Read Articles published in 1939, particularly "The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains." This project gave rise to 'the Red Canal Spirit,' that is dedication and perseverence, the will to complete your work regardless of the severity of hardship and difficultes involved.
The canal and irrigation system, built between 1960 and 1969, in Linzhou, where Northern Shanxi meets Henan Provinces, brought water to an area that suffered chronic shortages. 71km long the central canal crossed the mountains to a huge dam and reservoir and is considered an engineering feat. In places it cut through sheer cliff faces and required 42 tunnels and several aquaducts, many of which were very long. The main canal was completed in 1965 and since then has been linked with more irrigation canals, making a total of more than 1500km irrigating more than 100,000 acres.