Chinese History 17 WTF Moments from China’s Disastrous 1966 Cultural Revolution  

Justin Andress
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Because he wasn’t quite done asserting his will on the Chinese people in the wake of the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong sought to tighten Communism’s hold on his people in 1966 with a sweeping Cultural Revolution. Fearing that his party was leading the people in the wrong direction, Mao incited the youth of his country to reunify under the Communist ideology and purge any semblance of western or traditional Chinese ideals.

Here’s the thing about Chairman Mao’s awesome ideas, though. They often weren’t very good. The Great Leap Forward is largely considered to have contributed to millions of starvation deaths between 1959 and 1961. If it’s possible, the Chinese Revolution was even more costly to the country. At the end of the ten-year period, the Chinese economy was crippled and its status on the world stage had fallen considerably.

Those are the big points, though. To have actually experience the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 was to experience chaos incarnate. The people of China were caught in a time of discord and strife, where it seemed like anything could happen. Here, for your consideration, are some of the crazy things that happened during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Mao Instigated the Revolution to Get Himself Back in the Spotlight

Mao Instigated the Revolution ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 17 WTF Moments from China’s Disastrous 1966 Cultural Revolution
Photo: Zhang Zhenshi/via Wikipedia

The official story for instigating the Cultural Revolution was an attempt to get the country back to a more purist form of Communist thought. It was Mao’s public contention that the Chinese form of Communism was, like the Soviet’s own brand, veering away from its academic roots in favor of relying on governing by experience (AKA, doing something that actually worked).

Perhaps the real reason that Mao began to get the youth of the nation on his side was that his position in society had been compromised as a result of the Great Leap Forward, and he was looking for another shot at the title. The reason Mao most likely went after the kids was because most of the adults had already written him off as “That Dude Who Gifted Us a Famine”.

The 72-Year-Old Mao Tried to Swim Across the Yangtze River

The 72-Year-Old Mao Tried to S... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 17 WTF Moments from China’s Disastrous 1966 Cultural Revolution
Photo: via History Today

In order to prove his fitness to lead the nation after the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, the 72-year-old Mao joined Wuhan's annual Cross-Yangtze Swimming Competition: "Surrounded by six swimming bodyguards, accompanied by giant portraits of himself and by placards asking for 10,000 years of life for him, he stays in the water for 65 minutes, drifting some ten miles downstream with the powerful current."

Even Subway Ticket-Takers Were Instructed to Espouse Maoist Doctrine

Even Subway Ticket-Takers Were... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 17 WTF Moments from China’s Disastrous 1966 Cultural Revolution
Photo:  I. A. Walsh/via Flickr

During the Cultural Revolution, the streets of the country were supposed to simply beam Communism from every crevice. Every street was strongly advised to have at least one quote from the Chairman prominently displayed. Beyond that, speakers were set up on nearly every street corner that continuously proclaimed Mao’s wisdom.

Even ticket-takers on buses and trains were instructed to “declaim Mao’s thought.”

The Bodies of the Last Emperor and Empress Were Dug Up and Burned

The Bodies of the Last Emperor... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 17 WTF Moments from China’s Disastrous 1966 Cultural Revolution
Photo:  Louis le Grand/via Wikipedia

During the Cultural Revolution, many artistic, cultural, historical, and religious artifacts were destroyed in an attempt to erase the pre-revolutionary past, including everything from Buddhist temples to dynastic artwork. In one incident in 1969, the bodies of the Ming Dynasty emperor Wan Li (who died in 1620) and his wives were dug up by the Red Guard, publicly denounced, and then set on fire.