Chinese socialist icon and tractor-driving pioneer Liang Jun dies, aged 89

Laurie Chen

A pioneer held up as China’s “first woman tractor driver” and whose example was celebrated on the 1 yuan banknote, died on Tuesday, aged 89.

Liang Jun, who became a socialist icon thanks to her prowess as a tractor driver, died peacefully in a hospital in Harbin in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang after a two-year battle with lung disease, her son, Wang Yanbing, was quoted by Shanghai-based news outlet Thepaper.cn as saying.

Liang was born in Heilongjiang in 1930 to a poor rural family and was sold as a child bride to a wealthy landlord, according to the report.

In 1948, she jumped at the chance to enrol in a tractor-driving course organised by the local Communist Party administration, where she was the only woman in a class of 70.

Liang Jun was a pioneering example on the 1 yuan note. Photo: Weibo

Her ability behind the wheel soon earned her nationwide recognition after the party took control of China in 1949 and began to promote examples of “model workers” as part of the regime’s propaganda.

Liang’s story inspired countless other women to take up similar challenges, reflecting late leader Mao Zedong’s declaration that “women hold up half the sky”.

Liang Jun was a model worker in agriculture. Photo: Weibo

After appearing in a news report in 1959, Liang’s image was printed on the 1 yuan banknote in 1962, part of the third series to be released. Her star soon rose, and she became a party cadre as well as head engineer at the Harbin Agricultural Machinery Bureau.

“The female tractor driver on the yuan represents a new generation of Chinese women, based on my example,” state news agency Xinhua quoted Liang as saying.

Liang’s funeral was held in Harbin on Thursday, according to the Liaoshen Evening News.

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