Jonathan Chatwin visits a new museum dedicated to Party Discipline in Wuhan
“Do you know where Mao’s old house is?” the hotel receptionist asked his colleague. The screen of my phone was zoomed in on a small grey square, labelled ‘Comrade Mao Zedong’s Former Residence’. Neither of them had heard of it, so they called their manager over, and the four of us stood in the echoey, white-tiled reception of my cheap Wuhan hotel, reorienting my phone to try and figure out where I was going. Eventually, one of them spotted a nearby subway station they knew and told me the quickest way across town. “He came here in 1966,” the manager told me. “Did you know he swam in the Yangtze?”
A few hundred yards down the embankment from my hotel, I had already seen the enormous metal numerals which commemorate the date of the swim the hotel manager was referring to: 66.7.16. The hot morning of July 16 1966 was one of eighteen occasions when the Great Helmsman swam in China’s great river at Wuhan, and indisputably the most well-known. A showy demonstration of physical vigour, it prefigured his return to Beijing, where the next month he threw himself into promoting the Cultural Revolution.