This Photo Started a Cultural Revolution in China

Important photographs have changed the world in a number of ways since the camera's inception. This is one of the more somber and chilling uses for a photograph.

Chinese history is a bit of an Achilles heel in my knowledge of history. China as a whole wasn't the subject of much on the British syllabuses and instead, Chairman Mao was one of the only figures to feature under the umbrella of studies on communism. The more I have learned about Mao and Maoism, the more horrified I have become. There are so many parallels to be drawn between 20th century China and modern day North Korea that it feels less like distant history and more like a horrifying precursor to current affairs under Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.

In this video, Vox explores the photograph that revitalized a waning Maoism and helped push one of the deadliest cultural revolutions in history. On 16th July 1966, Chairman Mao at the age of 72 was photographed swimming across the Yangtze river at a ridiculous (and obviously fictional) rate, covering 15km in 65 minutes without showing any sort of fatigue to "demonstrate his battle-readiness." As far as publicist stunts by politicians go, this ended up being one of the most impactful in history, with the photograph being credited as one of the chief motivators for a bloody revolution and the Red Guards. The image has become iconic and is still seen on every anniversary of the date up to the the modern day.

Read more about the events surrounding this pictures here.

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Just me's picture

Swimming 15km in 65 minutes in 1966...
"We don't have backdoor in our Huawei network equipment" (2020)
70 Years of real facts with CCP characteristics.

Les Sucettes's picture

Sorry for being anal about this, but this sort of grand statements or expectations are often at the core of failure, grandstanding, and disappointment, bias and so on

Here it comes: no photograph changes or causes or sells anything. People, strategies and hard work make things happen.

I‘m only saying this because there are so many people out there actually believing that all they have to do is shoot photograph, setup a portfolio, or post something ... or take this into any other part of life ... and then they are disappointed when nothing happens.

That photo did not start a revolution. No photo has no photo will. It’s whoever used (or I’d say in this case: misused) the photo that has. And it’s probably been quite a bit of action happening all around it for that photo to be A tiny part of it.

Erik Kobal's picture

I feel like the closest potential for this we have in the US is Bernie Sanders as Mao and Antifa as the red guards.