How China prepared for potential invasion from Soviet Union with mankind’s largest doomsday project
"We do these things only for future generations to forget all about this."
The following article was posted in Chinese on March 11 on 九边 Jiu Bian, a popular blog on WeChat, where it was an instant hit. The blog is rated by Yinxiang (China-based spinoff of Evernote), as one of the 10 most archived blogs on WeChat in 2021 based on the app's user data.
The original title is 人类历史上最大的一场末日工程，大三线建设始末 The mankind’s largest doomsday project -- the story of the Third Front project.
Highlights of the article can be summarized as the following:
The 三线建设/三线工程 Third Front project was a massive, national defense project first designed in the 1960s to protect China from a nightmarish situation in which the Soviet Union and the U.S. would attack China from both sides, with stark memories of the brutal anti-Japan war barely 30 years ago in mind.
It became even more important when the Soviet Union and China were on the brink of a total, possibly nuclear war in 1969.
The project was undertaken under very harsh circumstances. Massive military and industrial bases were built from scratch in the deserted mountains with literally bare hands.
Having nuclear weapons alone does not necessarily mean nuclear deterrence and cannot guarantee safety for China. The Third Front project, exemplifying Chinese leadership's foresight and Chinese people's fortitude, played a part in saving China itself from another devastating conflict.
An important side effect of the Third Front is that it helped many remote and rural areas to reach modernization together with urban centers (a common and enduring theme of Chinese nation, as recently embodied in the concept of 共同富裕 Common Prosperity).
The translation, which was done by Ginger River during this weekend, hasn’t been reviewed by the author. The highlights are by Ginger River.
Ginger River knows that the article contains some views which not every subscriber will agree with, but he guesses exposure to some different Chinese views is at least partly what you look for.
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Here is the full text:
The mankind’s largest doomsday project -- the story of the Third Front project
This article has been written for a long time, because a long time ago I promised to write about it. But then the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, so people may feel that I have some ulterior motives if I release it. That's not the case. I just want to let everyone learn those things that we used to do. So my original plan was to release the article when the conflict is over, but I guess it won't end soon, so I'll release it today. After reading this article, you may have a new understanding of many current issues.
The first time I had an intuitive understanding of the Third Front project was in a sharing session of the Aerospace Institute, when an elder leader said that when the country was going to engage in the Third Front project, the No.1 Institute of Aerospace in Beijing (should be the No.1 Institute. It has been too long, I can not remember) was evacuated to Xi'an [capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province]. But the conditions there were too poor. The school had not been set up. The staff of the Aerospace Institute went there, but their children stayed in Beijing to go to school.
At that time, many people were reluctant to leave Beijing, thinking that they would not be able to return in their life. As core cadres, they were asked to go first. But they found the conditions to be extremely harsh. They thought they would go to [the city of] Xi'an, but in fact they went to a village, without even electricity. The first thing they did there was digging out a toilet with workers.
The workshop where they studied the aero-engine was actually in a thatched house with crevices on all sides, and later they blocked the crevices, and the leaders later gave a few iron plates to seal the roof, so it did not leak. I found a picture on the Internet of the No.6 Institute, so we can have a sense of the conditions then:
[The banner on the left reads, "Prepare for war and scarcity for the people," and the one on the right reads "Must catch up with and surpass the world's advanced levels."]
After nearly a decade of struggling in this extremely difficult environment, the elder leader returned to Beijing.
During this period of time, I did a lot of research, and I wrote a little every day to share the story with you. Those people's stories should not be forgotten.
Where is the Third Front
First of all, the Third Front is both a geographical concept and a national strategic concept. The coastal areas and borders were considered the first line of defense. The Third Front is the national strategic hinterland, mainly in the mountainous areas of Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi. The rest of the country is considered the second front.
Although these areas were said to be strategic hinterland, in fact, they were some of the areas with limited transportation. In the 1960s, the cost of human and material resources would be very astounding if you did major construction there.
It turned out to be true. For the construction of the Third Front, the country built thousands of enterprises in 15 years, mobilizing millions of people and spending half of the national investment in the same period, totaling more than 200 billion yuan. Back then, a worker's salary was only 30 yuan. This amount of the money sounded small, but it could support a whole family at that time, and many of these projects were not new construction, but the relocation of the entire factory enterprises in the first-tier areas.
At that time, such a large expenditure was a very big burden for China, of which the economic base was already very thin. According to statistics, the project slowed down the industrialization of the country by at least two to three years. What happened at that time? What made China to do this?
This goes back to the complex international and domestic environment of the time.
In 1964, China had just survived three years of natural disasters and had beaten India in 1962. In fact, that year was a very difficult year for China. In general, it was pinned down on two sides by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and could be attacked by full force at any time.
[Some paragraphs were omitted here, mainly about the background of the Korean War]
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. supported the Vietnamese government in the south, but the puppet they found was a group of bastards whose skills were all focused on corruption. In the face of North Vietnam's attack, South Vietnam simply could not resist it. The U.S. could only strengthen its support for South Vietnam, including financial assistance, sending military advisers, sending special forces and finally going to the battlefields themselves. The reason for this was that at the time the Americans thought China would annex Vietnam, then it would attack Thailand, then the Malay Peninsula, and fight all the way to Hawaii.
To the Chinese at the time though, everything looked exactly like what the Japanese had done 27 years earlier at Lugou Bridge, also known as Marco Polo Bridge, in the western suburb of Beijing [July 7, 1937, which marked the beginning of Japan's full-scale invasion of China]. We cannot even say they were similar. Because they were exactly the same.
As for the Soviet Union, since 1956, the relationship between China and the Soviet Union had been getting worse and worse. Anyone with a bit of knowledge about history should know what happened later. Essentially, the two parties were getting further and further apart, and the relationship dropped to a freezing point. The most obvious sign was that the Soviet Union amassed over a million troops along the border.
At the same time, the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union has shown signs of alleviation since Khrushchev's visit to the U.S. in 1959. The Soviet Union even shared some American values, such as the famous "Corn Crusade," which was originally small in scale. But after seeing the bumper crop of corn in the U.S. and the large number of livestock raised there, Khrushchev took the plunge and promoted it on a large scale throughout the Soviet Union.
[Some paragraphs were omitted here, mainly about the failure of the "Corn Crusade" and the frictions between India and China on the border]
And then China had a big event: the research of atomic bomb was successful and it would be blown up in 1964. It sounded like a good thing, but the officials of upper level were very nervous at the time. It was simple: people say that with the atomic bomb, you have the ability to defend yourself. In fact, this is not true. What we have is just an experiment, far from combat-ready.
Because the atomic bomb is a fission bomb, the yield is very limited, several hundred thousand TNT to the top. To have a real killer, you must make a fusion bomb, which is often referred to as the hydrogen bomb. That is easily a few million TNT equivalent. But then China's hydrogen bomb would be years away.
Furthermore, making it is only the first step, but then you need to have miniaturization and weaponization, and also the ability to deliver. You have to be able to throw the bomb to others' heads. Otherwise, people can bomb you with long-range weapons, and the thing you hold will be no different than a lead ball. You can not just blow yourselves up, right? As for delivery, you either have to use rockets or long-range bombers. At the time, none of these exist in China.
In addition to these, you also need to have the ability to counterattack, otherwise people can do a sneak attack and blow your nuclear weapons up. How will you do? So you have to have mobile launch vehicles, super strong silos and submarines with nuclear missiles to ensure that during the first wave of nuclear attack your nuclear arsenal is not destroyed. Only in that case, the other side will think twice about any attacks. Only after you have all of these things, are you considered to have a full nuclear deterrent.
This is why nuclear powers have maintained such a large stockpile of nuclear arsenal. It seems way too many and unnecessary. In fact, the actual purpose is for the "Second Strike." If after being pummeled by the first wave of nuclear attacks and heavy losses, you can still manage to make the other party a mess, then the other side will not dare to make the first move. The entire Cold War nuclear deterrence logic is actually built on the basis of this Second Strike deterrence.。
But China's progress was watched by everyone. These things will be developed one by one, sooner or later. If you were an enemy of China and of normal intelligence, what would you do when faced with this situation? The first reaction would be to strike before China even had the means to use the bomb, take out all of China's nuclear facilities, or even take out the entire defense system.
From our current perspective, how is such a crazy thing possible? But it's one thing whether it will happen or not, and it's another thing if you're prepared for it or not. From a national security perspective, the word "impossible" can really have devastating consequences.
There was a lesson for China in this regard. The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 saw almost all of China's most affluent regions being occupied in a few months. China's industrial capacity dropped by 90% at once, and a large number of factories and equipment could not be relocated to the rear and became Japanese war resources.
Luckily, a private entrepreneur named Lu Zuofu commanded his Minsheng Company to transport more than 1.5 million people and 1 million tons of materials to the rear of Sichuan in the face of Japanese artillery fire in a Dunkirk-style evacuation, preserving the vitality of Chinese industry and even the entire war effort. But although these materials looked like a lot, compared to the huge scale and needs of China, it was still a drop in the bucket.
Due to the lack of equipment and raw materials to produce weapons and ammunition, the national army was extremely ill-equipped and was similar to the Russian army during World War I. Only a few units equipped with German, Russian and American armament had some combat power.
If officials of upper level of the Kuomintang (KMT) government at the time had enough sense of crisis to prepare strategically and relocate some of the industrial facilities in Wuhan and Nanjing to Chongqing in advance, they would not have been in such a mess after the war broke out.
It was also after these painful lessons that the Party Central Committee had the army make an assessment of what China would face under the worst-case scenarios (simultaneous attacks from the U.S. and the Soviet Union).
The final conclusion was very pessimistic: the eastern seaboard and the northeast region would probably fall in a month or two the fastest possible, and because most of the new Chinese heavy industrial enterprises were in these areas, China's industrial capacity would be basically wiped out by then, and the ability to go on fighting would be very weak.
According to the analysis of a staff officer at the time, if the Soviet Union and the U.S. came together to fight, then China had a major problem with strategic depth. Almost all the heavy industries and research institutes were in the coastal and border areas. With such strong enemies, the defenses would surely be broken through quickly, and by then the Chinese people's resistance would be even harder than the resistance against Japan. The Japanese army was still holding rifles and riding mules to make their way then. Now the enemy was mechanized heavy armored forces.
The situation was so critical that a report from the headquarters of the General Staff called 《关于国家经济建设如何防备敌人突然袭击问题的报告》"Report on How to Prepare the Country's Economic Construction for Enemy's Sudden Attacks" (the title was really straightforward) was handed over to Chairman Mao by the Chief of the General Staff.
It contains a concluding paragraph, which I reproduced here in full: "We believe that the above-mentioned problems are some of the major issues that concern the whole army, the entire population and directly affect the course of the patriotic war. It is recommended that a task force be organized by the State Council to study the adoption of some practical and active measures in accordance with the possible situation of the country's economy in order to prepare for a surprise attack by the enemy."
So at a meeting in May 1964 to discuss the next five-year plan, the Party Central Committee proposed the construction of the Third Front. It required the time of three five-year plans to build up China's strategic depth.
It was required to plan well in that year and to start relocating some industrial enterprises along the coast to the west and northwest from 1965 onward. Also in the subsequent period, most of the new projects were to be concentrated in the western region. The goal was to make sure that these factories and scientific research units in the rear would not be broken and bombed, and ensure production and scientific research to support the front line if the war broke out.
The year 1964 was less than 30 years after 1937, the year when Sino-Japanese War broke out. At that time, the Chinese leadership and countless ordinary people had the painful memories of that brutal part of the history. So the whole country resolutely started the construction of the Third Front.
The Great Third Front
The construction of the Third Front started in 1964, and according to the plan, the whole country took action.
The whole construction was very huge, the most famous of which was the establishment of the southwestern Chinese city of 攀枝花 Panzhihua. On the map, you can obviously feel that the picture of Panzhihua is not quite right, although it is around 200 kilometers away from Kunming city, the capital of China's southern Yunnan Province, it is a city nested in the big mountains. I screenshot a picture here. As you can see, this place is really completely in the mountains.
Panzhihua and southwest China-based steelmaker Panzhihua Steel
But Panzhihua, despite its somewhat non-mainstream location, has huge iron ore resources here, and there are mines, iron ores, water, coal, rich resources, dense mountains and rivers. It’s easy to defend, fully equipped with the potential to independently build a large steel base and achieve self-cycling.
But at the same time, this also means that Panzhihua had a very harsh environment. According to the earliest builders, "There is nothing but difficulties here. We have nothing but a pair of hands, but our hands have made everything out!" Hundreds of thousands of builders built this barren land into a huge steel mill in just a few years. A series of supporting facilities were also built.
At the same time, in order to connect the southwest with the central region and to open up the southwest to Beijing and Southeast Asia, the world-famous 成昆铁路Chengdu-Kunming Railway changed its route to go specifically through Panzhihua, thus making the already super tough project even tougher.
Chengdu-Kunming Railway Route
It can be said that a major reason for the redirection of the Chengdu-Kunming Railway was to go through Panzhihua. But the railway was also therefore countless times more difficult. It was started and stopped and restarted and stopped again and again for multiple times. As the construction of the Third Front started, the construction of this railroad was accelerated.
Finally, in 1970, the railway was opened to traffic and Panzhihua Steel Plant was put into operation.
Outside the steel enterprises, heavy industrial enterprises were the focus of the Third Front construction. In Shiyan, Hubei and Deyang, Sichuan, which were originally completely remote and mountainous areas, a large number of complete sets of heavy industrial enterprises were built up.
I guess we all thought of, for example, the production of cars, which requires thousands of parts, and at least dozens of upstream and downstream enterprises. The goal of the Third Front is to cope with a full-scale war. So all enterprises tried to be close to each other, otherwise when the time comes and you have to go to another place for a certain kind of part, the whole project will come to a stop. These places became full industrial centers in just a few years. Many of them are still economically developed industrial cities today after some reform.
So sometimes, you may find some Chinese cities to be quite strange. When you look at the map, they are nested in the mountains, but if you look at the core of the city it is actually very prosperous. The pillars of local industries are large industrial enterprises, and even several sizeable listed companies. But several counties nearby all are some backward poor counties. This may let some people feel very incongruous. In fact, if you check the history, many of them are related to industrial transfer during the construction of the Third Front.
In addition to various factories, a large number of Third Front projects are a variety of scientific research institutes, in particular military-related institutes. These were organisations designed to provide scientific and technological support for the war, and at that time, China still had many key technological pain points. Faced with the possibility of a major war breaking out at any time, these institutes also had to be relocated.
China's atomic bomb was developed successfully in 1964, and the Nuclear Power Institute of China was established the following year. In response to a possible enemy attack, the institute was moved from Beijing to Chengdu in 1967. The reactor of China's first generation of nuclear submarine, the famous "Project 909", was also based in a mountainous area of Sichuan's Jiajiang River.
The current Chengdu Aircraft Research and Design Institute, which was separated from the Shenyang Design Institute to build the Third Front, had only a few hundred people in the earliest days, but now it has designed the J-20 fighter jet.
There is also the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics, a name you may not be familiar with. This is the famous 九院"No.9 Institute," engaged in nuclear weapons. It was also relocated from Beijing to Mianyang, southwest China's Sichuan Province. At that time, a large number of scientific research institutions moved into Mianyang. So it is no coincidence that Mianyang today is called "China's science and technology city."
The factories manufactured products, while the research institutions provided the technology, but the research institutions needed a steady stream of new talents from the universities. At that time, universities were also concentrated in large cities and developed coastal and northeastern regions. This is something that China also knew well. The history of the relocation of National Southwestern Associated University in the war against Japan was a saddening memory. If there were preparation in advance, it would not be so difficult.
So the university should also be relocated, and to move quickly. The principle at that time was to relocate only the ministry-associated colleges and universities first, and to pick the professions that were important for the country's military technology. So many universities were divided into two parts. And the most strategically important part moved first to the Third Front.
[Some paragraphs were omitted here, mainly about some details of relocating the universities]
At that time, if you look from the sky, the whole China's personnel, capital and equipment were moving to the country's hinterland from the developed areas of the coast and northeast. The people who remained in the area did not stay idle, organizing militias, digging air-raid shelters and building underground fortifications.
Speaking of air-raid shelters, the most famous is Chongqing. A lot of holes dug in various periods were not recorded, and some mountains were dug empty.
Beijing subway line 1 is a quintessential project of the Third Front. Although the excavation technology used in this underground railway was not very advanced, it can directly withstand the bombing of a hundred planes. On top of the entire tunnel, there was reinforced concrete more than seventy centimeters thick and one meter of anti-blast material that can be used to prevent nuclear bomb attacks.
In fact, in the 1960s and 1970s, the country's cities of all sizes were digging, including my hometown, a small town that had built a large number of tunnel fortifications. When I was a child, I heard people say that they were dug during the anti-Japan era, but later I learned that it was mainly dug at this time.
Meanwhile, millions of people drove to the border to prepare for the attack of the Soviet revisionists. The first time I read the sci-fi fiction 《三体》The Three-Body Problem, I was very impressed that Ye Wenjie and the others were inserted on the Daxing'anling side to prepare for the first wave of Soviet revisionist's tank groups.
The Third Front project can actually be divided into two pieces, one large and one small.
The Third Front related to the national strategy was known as the "Great Third Front," the purpose of which was to transfer the defense industry research and other key enterprises to the rear.
Later, each province has started its own “小三线”工程 "Small Third Front" projects, which was to find remote mountainous areas in the province and transfer some military enterprises in there. One of the more special cases is Shanghai Because of geographical reasons, Shanghai was really unable to find remote mountainous areas. However, after the liberation of Shanghai, there were many times when Shanghai put some units in 皖南 southern areas of east China's Anhui Province, so at the time there were still some Shanghai's "enclave" farms there. The people there all had Shanghai residency. The civil servants there all went through Shanghai's recruitment program. This time, Shanghai also set up its own Third Front in southern Anhui.
Below the provincial level, some prefecture- and even county-level governments were engaged in their own Third Fronts. Find a mountain, dig underground, get some equipment into it, and that's enough to support the manufacturing of weapons for individual unit and platoon level.
Today,what we saw on the news was that some Syrians were armed with a variety of homemade weapons and felt very magical. In fact, many county-level Third Front projects were almost the same style. It’s not very difficult, and we were very professional as well.
After a few years of methodical construction, the international situation seemed to have gradually stabilized as the U.S. was bogged down in Vietnam and the possibility of China being caught on both side became very small.
The tree may prefer calm but the wind will not. As the U.S. threat waned, the Soviet Union hardened. In 1968, the Soviet Union made a big gamble when the new leaders of Czechoslovakia wanted to reform. The Soviet Union sent 500,000 troops in and took the main Czechoslovak leaders back to Moscow for a "meeting." This is the famous "Prague Spring."
I guess when Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out this time, this will play out in a similiar way. However, the U.S. knew in advance and broadcast to the whole world.
The world was really dumbfounded by this, and the Soviet Union had to have an explanation for it. So Brezhnev published an article in Pravda, presenting his theory of dealing with relations between socialist states, namely the theory of limited sovereignty. This stuff was summed up in two sentences: the socialist family should be united, and I can force unity if I think you are not united.
[Some paragraphs were omitted here, mainly about “珍宝岛事件”"Zhenbao Island Conflict"]
Between two countries, strength speaks. Facing the Soviet Union at that time, China was the weaker party, and could be disadvantaged in the war.
At that time, the Soviet Union was really planning to attack China, or at least made a full set of arrangements for an attack. They even listed all the important cities in China and arranged the number of nuclear bombs to attack ranging from one to several.
But although the plan was made, in the end, they did not dare to do it.
First, the front was too long and China was too big. At least three million troops were required. And they had to maintain supplies and equipment for this astronomical size from the west. It was a headache even you just imagine that.
Second, they were also afraid of backstabbing by the U.S. from Western Europe. They would be surrounded by two sides, and would have to cover tens of thousands of kilometers between two battle fronts. This would be an unimaginable nightmare.
The third factor was, China had a strategic depth after several years of construction of the Third Front, so the quick war was basically impossible. The war would be protracted and costly.
But still, you may feel it is impossible, but preparations for the worst must be done.
So the Party Central Committee made two important decisions: the first is the evacuation of the central leadership. It could take as quick as seven days for the Soviet Union’s mechanised forces to get from the Sino-Mongolian border to occupy Beijing. So just like when Yan'an was attacked by General Hu Zongnan when the Party Central Committee split into two pieces to avoid being wrapped up like dumpling, more than twenty years later, they again had to spread out to avoid being decapitated by the Soviet Union to ensure that the country's resistance would not lose leadership.
Secondly, the whole army was prepared for war, and troops left the camps in actual combat formation ready to respond to the Soviet Union's attack. The threat was lifted only after a full six months.
The construction of the Third Front had to be accelerated again, the task became only more urgent in order to cope with the outbreak of war at any time. A book called 《军地两用人才之友》 Friends of Military and Land Talents, one of the so-called "Three Great Books of God" books, covered the entire process from destruction to post-war reconstruction, from air defense and anti-tank, to building houses, growing food and raising livestock, to repairing electrical appliances and building cars - a rare wasteland survival guide that had both breadth and depth. 《赤脚医生手册》The Barefoot Doctor's Handbook include how to protect against diseases.
There was also a book called 《民兵军事训练手册》the Militia Military Training Manual, which covered the basic military knowledge of rifle shooting, air and chemical defense against atomic bombs, etc. With this 100-page manual in hand, you will be able to quickly build up an army with considerable combat power after the "world nuclear peace," which you definitely deserve.
The historical background to all of this is the intense Sino-Soviet relationship of the time. During this time, China was on the brink of war. A full-scale war could break out at any time.
In order to defend against the invasion, while the Third Front was being built, the country mobilized 30 million militiamen, produced 50 million guns, 2 million small-caliber mortars, 2 billion wooden-handled grenades. As for the bullets, there was not even any count. At that time, female militia members learned hardcore skills such as anti-aircraft machine gun usage, field fortification excavation, and emergency treatment after contamination with chemical weapons.
The end of the Third Front
But the "great war" didn't happen in the end. As we all know, China successfully developed its first hydrogen bomb in 1967, and the country acquired the capability of putting it into practice in 1969. [In 1967] A Chinese H-6 bomber which was just put into service dropped a weaponized hydrogen bomb that exploded with a force of 3.3 megatons, proving that China had a primary level of nuclear weapons delivery capability. However, the H-6 bomber's performance was not enough to deter the Soviet Union. Then China' s first man-made satellite DFH-1 blasted off in 1970, demonstrating that China had the strength to use rocket to deliver a megaton-level hydrogen bomb, officially having the nuclear deterrent.
After that, the Soviet Union indicated friendliness to China. Although the number of border troops remained unchanged, a large number of troops were undermanned, and many were even "shelf troops." [We all know the meaning of historical events such as] the then-U.S. President Richard Nixon's China visit and China's restoration of its legitimate seat at the United Nations.
Even so, China did not ease the efforts on the Third Front project. The reason is simple: If the enemy really does not hesitate to go up against the lethality of nuclear weapons, hydrogen bombs are not the Imperial Star Destroyer and cannot really put down the enemy.
Some say that the U.S. once said that China could contain the Soviet Union and that the U.S. would stand with China if the Soviet Union attacked China. And under the U.S. pressure, the Soviet Union will abandon their plans to attack China.
Such narrative can only fool the kids. The Soviet Union was in a strong position at that time and the pressure on the U.S. was overwhelming, not to mention the high price of oil. Internally, the Bretton Woods system was about to collapse, and the U.S. economy was in shambles. Even if the U.S. was stronger than the Soviet Union, it would take almost another 10 years for China and the U.S. to establish formal diplomatic relations [in 1979]. Why should the U.S. fight for China? Even if the two were allies, one hand can not even count over the times for which the U.S. betrayed its allies over the past years.
China was always on its own, and using the Third Front project to strengthen its strategic depth was the focus.
The project did not end until 1980. The reason [for this ending] is simple. The plan back then was to use the time of three five-year plans to establish a complete national research and military production system in the [internal areas] of the mainland, which was basically completed by then.
There was another reason. The primary objective of China's 1979 self-defense counterattack against Vietnam was not Vietnam. The main purpose was to see the reaction of the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union and Vietnam signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1978, indicating that the Soviet Union would fully protect Vietnam.
In the end, the Soviet Union, after some psychological game [internal struggle?], did not directly send troops to march from the Sino-Soviet border to China, but only supported Vietnam behind the scenes to keep creating frictions with China. In this way China saw through the Soviet Union's cards, knowing that it was weaker than it looked.
Then the 1980s came. As the international situation eased, peace became mainstream. Some of the large number of units established in the Third Front project began to move out of the internal areas to the developed coastal areas. Some units in very remote places were simply abandoned, and some were finally shut down, suspended, merged or switched to other production. Only a small number of enterprises with advantages became bigger and stronger.
The significance of the Third Front
Once there was a saying which indicated that the Third Front had wasted a lot of human, material, and financial resources, because the investment in these places had resulted in a large reduction in investment in the first-tier areas, leading China to take a detour in its construction.
The view is not worth refuting. For example, some people think that the seat belt makes people particularly uncomfortable and the airbag more or less does not matter that much. Things like ABS, EBD, ESP, EBA were fancy and expensive. They have not had any major incidents after driving for so many years. Wasn't the money all wasted?
Normally, people with such an idea miss some key points. You can't drive without the "safety" facilities. Having no chance to use them is [supposed to be] the best [intended] outcome. [them being of actual use] is not a good thing.
The Third Front was China's seat belt and airbags, providing a safety guarantee for the potential dangers.
One could even say that perhaps China's foresight of the future changed the future. It's like when someone is ready to give you a stick on your way to work. After being aware of that possibility, you get up in the morning and put on your helmet and carry a stick to go to work, and people see you and think you're not easy to deal with. When you arrive at work unharmed, everyone laughs at you, thinking that you have just wasted your time and energy.
From my point of view, the other benefit of the Third Front is to industrialize or modernize the country, especially the remote areas. A group of citizens from the city moved to locations close to the backward and closed places in the internal areas of the mainland, and railways and factories were also built there.
In the era when flashlights were industrial goods and bicycles were big industrial goods, modern factories and people from the city brought the locals closer to modernity.
[Some paragraphs were omitted here, mainly about how some low- or middle- income countries often face problems when shining development only took place in cities but failed to benefit the masses]
The situation in China was very different from other places. The country used its great mobilization capabilities [of resources] and leadership to pull the whole country towards modernization. From the 1950s onward, though at different levels of development, the spread of modernization was basically synchronized throughout the country, which set the stage for the great development that followed the China's reform and opening-up.
Write here, it is almost the end of the article. Let me use the words of that elder leader of the Aerospace Institute. I also asked about the leader the other day and learned that he had passed away in 2019. He said decades ago at a mobilization meeting: We do these things only for future generations to forget all about this. When they completely cannot understand why we did these things, it means that the country has become stronger and what we paid for is worth it.
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I feel so much as I was reading this, imagining the people at that time and the hardships they had to endure to allow this project to be completed. Put on top of that the threat of war, it almost feels too much, let alone considering how much they have already experienced, coming through the Sino-Japanese war. Thank you for sharing this project and helping us come closer to understanding the complications and complexities of building a nation. The elder whose quote you ended with just made me tear up because I'd like to imagine that we are so much closer to that world that he envisioned, and I certainly hope he saw that and took comfort in it before he passed.