The Chairman Goes for a Swim
It was worldwide news when Chairman Mao Tse-tung, “the great leader of the Chinese people,” went for a swim in the Yangtze River on July 16, 1966. According to Peking NCNA International Service in English on July 25, 1966, as captured by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service for dissemination to American leaders, he “was relaxed and easy… braving winds and waves. He stayed in the water a full 65 minutes, covering a total distance of almost 15 kilometers.” (That’s slightly over nine miles, for those less familiar with the metric system.)
In June of 1956 Chairman Mao had come to Wuhan and swum across the river three times. He “later wrote the poem full of brilliancy and boldness: ‘Swimming—To the Melody Shui Tiao Ke Tou.’ In his latest swim, too, as he put it in this poem, ‘I care not that the wind blows and the waves beat; it is better than idly strolling in a courtyard.’”
“The happy news about Chairman Mao’s latest swim in the Yangtze soon spread through Wuhan. The whole of this triple city was overjoyed as the news passed from one person to another. Everybody was saying: ‘Our respected and beloved leader Chairman Mao is in such wonderful health. This is the great happiness for the entire Chinese people and for the revolutionary people throughout the world!’”
Five thousand swimmers from Wuhan were going to re-create the Chairman’s 1956 swim in the 11th version of this annual event. “That day the banks were alive with crowds cheering amid forests of colorful bunting and huge banners. The melody ‘The East Is Red,’ the song in praise of the Chinese people’s respected leader Chairman Mao, sounded from the loudspeakers installed on both banks of the Yangtze.”
At this point, the great leader stopped by. “Just as the contest was beginning, Chairman Mao came by motorboat to review the swimmers. ‘Chairman Mao has come! Long live Chairman Mao!’ shouted the first person who spotted him aboard the motorboat. Immediately, the army of swimmers, carrying hundreds of red flags, swung around and swam toward Chairman Mao. At the same time, all ships and boats in the port sounded their sirens in honor of the great leader. The cheers and sirens mingled in a tremendous roar.”
It is far easier to believe the quotes ‘Chairman Mao has come! Long live Chairman Mao!’ than ‘Our respected and beloved leader Chairman Mao is in such wonderful health. This is the great happiness for the entire Chinese people and for the revolutionary people throughout the world!’ Seriously, who talks like that? Though it is possible they were saying the Chinese version of “Chairman Mao is here. Everybody look busy.” The next paragraph of this “news” report carries some important political propaganda within it. As well as starting with a wonderfully hagiographic description of the Chairman.
“With glowing ruddy cheeks and in buoyant spirits, Chairman Mao stood on the deck of the boat, reviewing the swimmers who were grappling with the river. The swimmers, who were carrying red flags and pushing along huge placards inscribed with quotations from Chairman Mao’s works, formed a great wall on the surface of the river, valiantly forging ahead, wave after wave. Written on the placards were these words of Chairman Mao: ‘Unity, alertness, earnestness, and activity,’ ‘The imperialists are pushing China around in such a way that China must deal with them seriously.’ And ‘Resolute and unafraid of sacrifice, they will surmount every difficulty to win victory!’
“He was greatly elated to see the revolutionary spirit of these swimmers who were firm in determination and strong in morale. He walked back and forth between the starboard and portside, waving to the crowds in acknowledgement of the deafening cheers and shouted back: ‘Greeting to you all, comrades! Long life to you comrades!”
Eventually the 5,000 people and their placards and red flags swam past Mao, and climbed up on the banks of the river joining the “tens of thousands there to cheer Chairman Mao in the motorboat.” His boat approached the crowds and they “boiled with excitement and their thunderous ovations swept over the Yangtze waves.”
And then it happened. “At this joyous moment, the boat drew toward the mouth of the Wuehang dikes. Chairman Mao trod firmly down the gangway and, after dipping his body into the water, he stretched out his arms and swam with steady strokes. It was then 11 a.m.” This is Chairman Mao, in Marxist terms, committing praxis, i.e. putting theory into action!
“The Yangtze was in spate, its currents swift. On the broad expanse of water, Chairman Mao at times swam sidestroke, advancing as he cleaved through the waves, and at other times he floated and had a view of the azure sky above. In the water with Chairman Mao was Wan Jen-chung, second secretary of the Central-South Bureau of the CCP Central Committee and first secretary of the Hupeh provincial party committee, and a group of husky young men and women who swam close behind.”
He made small talk with those swimming near him. He taught a young woman who “knew only one swimming stroke” the backstroke. He chatted with Comrade Wang Jen-chung about local children’s swimming ability. The author added in this wonderful paragraph of anti-U.S. propaganda:
“When he made his fourth Yangtze crossing in 1957, Chairman Mao said: People say the Yangtze is very big. In fact, bigness is not to be feared. Is not the U.S. imperialism very big? We rebuffed it once, and nothing happened. Therefore, some big things in the world are really not to be feared.”
As the cliché puts it, all good things must come to an end, and the Chairman’s swim did too. After 45 minutes, they tried to get him on the boat. “In the best of spirits Chairman Mao said: ’It’s not even an hour yet!’ He continued swimming to the east. At one hour and five minutes, Comrade Want Jen-chung again asked Chairman Mao to go on board the boat to take a rest. Chairman Mao said gaily: ‘You are the first secretary of the provincial part committee here, so I obey your order!”
At this point the report says he was swimming downstream. It reiterates the distance swum and states that he was “vigorous and showed no sign of fatigue.”
People were proud of his accomplishments; they “invigorated everyone’s heart and brought immense inspiration and strength to everybody.”
How did people respond? The very next paragraph tells the tale, although you have to consider the source.
“Wei Yueh-an, political instructor of the 205th Detachment of the Wuhan Port Administration, one of the outstanding students of Chairman Mao’s works in the Yangtze navigation system, said with emotion: ‘A docker who spent dozens of years on the water, I suffered such bitterness and agony in the old society. Since liberation, the people have become the master of the state. Today I was able to swim in the Yangtze together with Chairman Mao. This is really an event I’ll never forget my whole life. From now on I will follow Chairman Mao’s teaching even better. I am physically on the Yangtze, but my heart encompasses the whole nation and my attention is turned toward the whole world. I will make a living study and application of Chairman Mao’s works, do my part to carry out the great proletarian cultural revolution thoroughly, do a good job at work, and make my contribution to the construction of the great motherland and to supporting the anti-imperialist, revolutionary struggle of the people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This is how I can repay the solicitude shown me by the party and Chairman Mao.’”
There follow now several paragraphs of others expressing equally positive thoughts about the event, including many by “foreign friends.” Their encomiums flow like the Yangtze itself, but there’s no need to quote them. Instead, let’s move on to the final paragraph of the article:
“The great event, in which Chairman Mao once again swam with ease some 15 kilometers in the deep chasm of the Yangtze, stirred the hearts of all people. The cheering of ‘Long Live Chairman Mao’ on both banks lasted well over four hours. This moving scene was expressive of the infinite love and respect of the Chinese people for their great leader, Chairman Mao. Under the guidance of the brilliant thought of Mao Tse-tung, the 700 million Chinese people train their eyes on the future and are riding the wind and breaking the waves on their forward advance!”
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