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  • Mao Zedong wan suilive 10,000 years.

  • In 1966, Mao Zedong had a problem.

  • The Chinese leader who had led a peasant army to victory in the Chinese Civil War, and established the communist People's Republic of China in 1949, was getting old.

  • Worse, his radical policies had devastated the country, and triggered the deadliest famine known to human history.

  • By the early 1960s, Mao's once-great influence and public presence were at an all-time low, and there were rumors that he was dying, or even dead already.

  • He needed to find a way to seal his legacy as the face of Chinese communism.

  • And a new revolution to lead.

  • It started in a river.

  • -The Great Leap Forward was a disaster. [Chapter one: Mao loses his grip.]

  • It was Mao's 1958 plan to quickly industrialize China by working its massive peasant population nonstop.

  • He promises to transform the People's Republic into an instant paradise through the sheer force of numbers.

  • Forcing workers in the countryside to farm crops on government-run communes.

  • And millions more to manufacture crude steel in homemade blast furnaces.

  • And even though Mao told the world that the plan was succeeding

  • Everywhere, the communists report, production records are being broken.

  • The truth was much more desperate.

  • They flood the fields, exhaust the soil, and farm production instead of going up, goes down.

  • The Chinese people were being forced to work tirelessly on land they once owned themselves and they were starting to lose morale.

  • And despite reports of widespread famine, with millions of people starving to death, Mao kept production quotas high.

  • The pace grows more frantic.

  • Ceaselessly, without rest, one observer writes.

  • "The countryside is in convulsion.".

  • Mao's Great Leap Forward ended in 1962.

  • By that time somewhere between 23 and 55 million people had died in the famine.

  • Over in the Soviet Union, a different political upheaval was happening.

  • Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who Mao modeled himself after, was dead.

  • And Mao watched as Nikita Krushchev, Stalin's successor, implemented a period known as "de-Stalinization.".

  • Where Krushchev set out to reverse many of Stalin's policies and dismantle the personality cult that had formed around him.

  • Mao saw his own legacy potentially suffering the same fate.

  • His communist revolution was long over, and his ideas weren't taken as seriously after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward.

  • It was starting to look like Mao's place in the pantheon of powerful communist figures, like Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx, was in peril.

  • This is where the river comes in. [Chapter two: the swim.]

  • Mao had a reputation for being a strong swimmer.

  • And even used it as a symbol of his ideology.

  • In 1956, he swam across China's biggest river, the Yangtze, in three highly-publicized swims.

  • To demonstrate that big things, like U.S. imperialism, didn't intimidate him.

  • 10 years later, Mao took on the Yangtze again, to dispel rumors of his failing health.

  • This time with cheering crowds swimming alongside him.

  • He brought his personal photographer, who snapped this photo of the aging dictator in the river.

  • And another one showing Mao waving to his fellow swimmers, with the landmark Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge behind him.

  • An iconic architectural achievement of the communist government, and proof that he was at the Yangtze.

  • The swim made the front page of China's state newspaper, reporting that Mao swam around 15 kilometers, a little more than 9 miles, in a span of 65 minutes.

  • Which meant the 72-year-old would have shattered world speed records.

  • A lot of people outside of China laughed at the outlandish story, but some saw the swim for what it was: a sinister sign.

  • Pointing out that Mao's swims from a decade earlier preceded the catastrophic Great Leap Forward.

  • Experts feared that Mao was on the verge of kicking off another disastrous period of turmoil in China.

  • They were right.

  • Two months before the swim, Mao had announced the beginning of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. -[Chapter three: the cultural revolution.]

  • A call to hunt down and eliminate the "bourgeoisie who had sneaked into the party.".

  • Basically to purge the government of anyone who strayed from principles of Maoism.

  • And it kicked into high gear after his historic swim.

  • Which prompted a craze for swimming in China, but more importantly, a craze for Mao.

  • Especially among the group that Mao wanted to influence the most: China's youth.

  • Writer Liang Heng recalled that seeing Mao as "human flesh and blood" after the Yangtze swim resolved him to "serve him with all his heart.".

  • Millions of Chinese youth organized into the fanatical Red Guards, a paramilitary force concentrated mostly in Chinese cities.

  • And, with Mao's blessing, they wreaked havoc in the name of Cultural Revolution.

  • Their mission was to destroy the Four Olds.

  • Old culture.

  • Old ideology.

  • Old customs.

  • Old traditionsall of the olds must be destroyed.

  • The idea was basically to tear down the vestiges of imperial China and rewrite history centered around Mao Zedong.

  • Renaming buildings and streets, destroying cultural sites, and violently humiliating, and often torturing and murdering, anyone they accused of opposing Mao's ideas.

  • Which they plastered all over the cities.

  • And carried in their pockets in the form of Mao's Little Red Book, a collection of his sayings and principles.

  • And although the violent Red Guards were basically dissolved by 1969, the Cultural Revolution is considered to have continued until Mao's death in 1976.

  • Ending a decade of destruction that had elevated the leader to god-like levels.

  • And resulted in over one million people dead.

  • The chaos of the Cultural Revolution scarred China for generations.

  • But Mao basically got what he wanted.

  • Even though the Chinese Communist Party condemned the Cultural Revolution in 1981, and Chinese communism diverted away from Maoism, they didn't denounce Mao himself.

  • The Cultural Revolution solidified Mao's cult of personality, and that influence has lasted.

  • Mao's swim, which is still commemorated each year in China, was more than a display of strength.

  • It was a message: to get behind Mao as he began his last revolution.

Mao Zedong wan suilive 10,000 years.

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This photo triggered China's Cultural Revolution

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    Mackenzie posted on 2020/05/08
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