Chairman Mao Swims in the Yangtze

Photograph by Unknown

The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.

Chairman Mao Zedong

Chairman Mao Swims in the Yangtze

  • Unknown
  • 1966

After decades leading the Chinese Communist Party and then his nation, Mao Zedong began to worry about how he would be remembered. The 72-year-old Chairman feared too that his legacy would be under­mined by the stirrings of a counterrevolution. And so in July 1966, with an eye toward securing his grip on power, Mao took a dip in the Yangtze River to show the world that he was still in robust health. It was a propaganda coup. The image of that swim, one of the few widely circulated photos of the leader, did just what Mao hoped. Back in Beijing, Mao launched his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, rallying the masses to purge his rivals. His grip on power was tighter than ever. Mao enlisted the nation’s young people and implored these rabid Red Guards to “dare to be violent.” Insanity quickly descended on the land of 750 million, as troops clutching the Chairman’s Little Red Book smashed relics and temples and punished perceived traitors. When the Cultural Revolution finally petered out a decade later, more than a million people had perished.

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