25 Jul: When Mao Went Swimming

Chairman Mao Zedong swam in the Yangtze River on 25th July, 1966. Despite being in his Seventies, the leader was said by party propagandists (and hence every newspaper in China) to have set a world-record pace of nearly 15 km in 65 min. 

This piece of political theatre showed the world that the public face of the Chinese Communist party was in robust physical shape (despite reports in the West to the contrary), and reset Mao’s image in China after his disastrous ‘Great Leap Forward’ had claimed the lives of millions of people.


In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly unpick the symbolism of this iconic event; explain how Mao leveraged the publicity to reconsolidate his power; and reveal what Mao got VERY wrong about sparrows… 

Further Reading:

• ‘The Chairman’s Historic Swim’ (TIME, 1999): http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2054250,00.html

• ‘Power of symbolism: The swim that changed Chinese history’ (SupChina, 2021): https://supchina.com/2021/07/14/power-of-symbolism-the-swim-that-changed-chinese-history/

• ‘This photo triggered China’s Cultural Revolution’ (Vox, 2020):