The narrator and Luo are best friends who are sent to "The Phoenix of the Sky" , a mountain which is one of the locations for re-education. Chairman Mao
forces all educated people to go to a rural village and live with them. The final goal of this re-education is to allow these people to learn how to live and work without technology. The main characters have a three in a thousand chance of ever leaving the mountain and returning to their families.
This occurs in the early 1970's where in other parts of the world, new ideas and technology is booming. But here in China, Chairman Mao to preserve the old and stop the spread of new ideas by means of banning all forms of expression. (books, movies, etc.)