Reddest Red Sun
Power Swim in the Yangtse
Throughout his life, Mao Zedong had been an advocate and
practitioner of physical fitness not only for health reasons, but
also for revolutionary ends. From his youth, he had had a penchant
for swimming, in particular as a kind of ablution as a political
ritual and as an exercise in self-discipline. This predilection
assumed national importance from the mid-1950s onward, when the
Chairman told the People that: "Swimming is a sport in which
the swimmers battle against nature; you should go into the big
rivers and seas to temper yourselves."*
In the months prior to Mao’s July 1966 swim, the Cultural Revolution had been unfolding throughout China, with power struggles among the leadership and the rise of Red Guards among Chinese youth. In June, after consulting with Mao who was then in the South, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping sent work teams, or government supervisory groups, to schools and universities in an attempt to reassert Party control. These work teams tried to control the rising mass movement by banning protests and big-character posters against the authorities.
Mao sat quietly in South China, letting Liu and Deng handle this very difficult situation, until his Yangtse swim.
What joy it is to struggle with heaven!
*"Chairman Mao Swims in the Yangtse," China Pictorial, October 1966.
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