Poster of proud workers at Daqing. An oil tanker and oil well are visible in the background. COLLECTION STEFAN LANDSBERGER.

Daqing, a city in northeast China, was formally founded in 1959 to develop the country’s largest oil fields. For many years a model of efficiency and national industrial practice, Daqing was the site of huge protests in 2002 after the central government applied pressure to cut back the workforce in the oil fields and trim some of the social benefits offered to current and former employees.

In the mythology of contemporary China, Daqing holds a particular place, both as a city held up as a model of efficiency in the 1960s and 1970s and as the location of the heroic deeds of model worker Wang Jinxin (1923–1970), known as “Iron Man Wang.” Since 1964 Daqing also has been linked with Dazhai, a national agricultural model, in the central northern province of Shanxi. Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong’s statement in 1964—“In agriculture learn from Dazhai, in industry learn from Daqing”—was endlessly repeated and set down as cast-iron truth until his death in 1976.

Daqing has continued to be important to China’s development, however, whereas Dazhai has proven to be a tragic fraud, its party secretary, the barely literate peasant Chen Yongui, felled from the positions he had been elected to as a result of Dazhai’s elevation in the late 1970s and the whole project exposed and discredited.

Daqing is a city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, bordering Russia. Prospecting for crude oil began in the area in 1959 but was energized by a call by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee to greatly expand production in February 1960. This development occurred against the backdrop of arguments with the USSR and an increased need for China to be self-sufficient in energy production. In the propaganda carefully constructed afterward, “Iron Man Wang” was summoned from oil fields in the western province of Gansu with the brigade he headed, Drilling Team 1205, to open up Daqing. Wang was rewarded for his efforts by becoming a national labor model in 1967 and being elected to the Ninth Central Congress in 1968. He was a figure familiar to followers of Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) iconography and hagiography (biography of saints or venerated persons), in which he was often said to battle against class enemies and revisionists. Daqing, in fact, was built by more than forty thousand workers, using 700,000 metric tons of equipment, becoming fully operational in 1963.

Daqing would eventually produce almost 2 billion metric tons of crude oil and become the world’s fourth-largest oil field and the largest in China. Other potential sources, such as Xinjiang and the Bohai Sea, were to prove either too remote or too difficult to exploit economically. Although for twenty-seven years (up to 2005) Daqing produced 50 million metric tons of oil a year, predictions showed that by 2010 production would fall to 30 million metric tons and to 20 million metric tons by the end of 2020, despite efforts to locate another 500 million metric tons in the area. This decrease in production has occurred as China’s own energy needs have burgeoned, making it the world’s second-largest user of crude oil after the United States and, beginning in 1993, a net importer of oil. China’s attempts to acquire long-term supplies in the Middle East and Africa have caused considerable geopolitical problems, despite plans between Russia and China in 2002 to construct a pipeline between Siberia and Daqing. Daqing still accounts for one-third of China’s oil production.

The slogan to “learn from Daqing” was revised in the 1980s, particularly after the Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989, where Daqing was once again held up as a model of efficiency and national industrial practice. However, in the 1990s, with many of the state-owned industries around it in the northeastern “rustbelt” region, it came under pressure from the central government to trim its workforce and cut back some of the social benefits that it gave to current and former workers. By 2002 this action had resulted in mass protests in the city that attracted international attention both for their size (one commentator claimed they were the largest industrial protests in China since 1949) and for the fact that they were occurring in a place once held up as a model commune. Although the protests were quelled, officials made no further attempts to revive the “learn from Daqing” campaign. However, as perhaps a tribute to the city’s role in the development of China, in summer 2008 Daqing was one of the cities through which the Olympic torch passed on its way to Beijing for the games.

Further Reading

Helongjiang Province Official English Language website (2008). Daqing. Retrieved November 25, 2008, from

Iwamoto, B. (1988, March). The miracle of Daqing. The Leading Edge, (7)3, 26–30.

Source: Brown, Kerry. (2009). Daqing. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 580–582. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

A poster of workers at Daqing struggling bravely against the onslaught of a blizzard, by Yang Keshan. COLLECTION STEFAN LANDSBERGER.

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