Ze was the youngest of his family, and his mother died during the famine of 1958–60. He was adopted by his uncle who lived in the town, which resulted in him being granted a city household registration and the opportunity of education in a town school. When Ze was 16, the Cultural Revolution resulted in many students travelling to the cities in support of Chairman Mao. Later, along with many of these Red Guards, Ze was sent down to the countryside. However, his early life in the countryside enabled him to adapt well to village life, and he eventually married Shun. Ze was appointed manager of the commune shop.