Created 1-Jun-08
Modified 26-Aug-09
20 photos
A small series of Xinhua propaganda photographs depicting the pervasive extent of physical fitness programs during the Cultural Revolution. These programs were aimed not only at improving the physical body, but were seen in union with moral and intellectual eduction (德育, 智育, 体育). Thus mandatory mass sport assumed a political (and often a militaristic) dimension which gave it a nation-building quality with a specific mandate to create a strong mind in a strong body (锻炼身体, 锻炼意志), the prerogatives for social order. Individual achievement of the athlete was subsumed by the masses' totality and the collective's revolutionary spirit - unlike today, with athletes like Yao Ming achieving superstar status.

Note that the photographs here are gender-neutral. In fact women perhaps played a larger role and were statistically speaking (looking at the medal count of the era) more successful in the construction of the physical body of modern China than men, being deemed better suited to harsh training regiments and repetitive exercises.

Recommended reading: Brownell, Susan (1995): Training the Body for China - Sports in the Moral Order of the People's Republic; U of Chicago Press.

Scanned on the Epson 4990, individually processed in Photoshop.

Thomas H. Hahn
Ithaca, NY
Beijing Middle School students - exercising before a municipal level track & field meetWorkers of a mechanical engineering company in Tianjin on an early morning runWorkers and cadres in a tug-o-war 拔河 contestVolleyball competition (Ruifen Commune, Taishan county, Guangdong province)Table tennis at the Guanglinglu Elementary School in ShanghaiFactory workers in Chongqing practicing at the horizontal barsWorkers at a textile factory in Tianjin doing shadow boxing (Taiji quan)National champion Ni Zhiqin 倪志钦 demonstrating his skills to peasants in Shandong provinceBeijing students diving from a high platform (游泳是同大自然作斗争的一种运动)Peasants in Dafeng county (Jiangsu province) using a shoulder pole for a tug-o-war contest 以扁担拔河Basketball court, constructed by the Peoples Liberation Army in the mountainsHai'an county (Jiangsu province) military style exerciseHiking and mountaineering as part of training the revolutionary spiritOff-shore target practice by female volunteers (Fujian province)Joint swimming exercise by workers, peasants and soldiers in Nanning (Guangxi province)Swimming for and with Mao I (out-of-series)Swimming for and with Mao II (out-of-series)Swimming for and with Mao III (out-of-series)Official captions of this series, aggregated (file can be downloaded)Official release note of this set of photographs