1965 China

1965: Gymnastics at China’s Second National Games

In 1964, the People’s Republic of China did not compete at the Olympic Games, and the Chinese Gymnastics Association withdrew from the FIG. One year later, the country held its Second National Games, and the results make you wonder, “How would the Chinese gymnasts have fared at the Tokyo Games (1964) and the Dortmund World Championships (1966)?”

Let’s dive in.

Liao Runtian
Source: Wikipedia

Opening Ceremonies

Mass Gymnastics at the opening ceremonies.

At the end of the opening ceremony, more than 16,000 people from dozens of units performed wonderful group gymnastics in the capital. The performance lasted for 70 minutes and was collectively called “Anthem of the Revolution.” The movements were beautiful, and the patterns were magnificent. It reflected the heroic spirit of the Chinese people under the guidance of Mao Zedong Thought, self-reliance, and hard work. The whole performance continued to win applause from the audience.


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  12, 1965


After compulsories, the Shanghai men’s team was in the lead, as was the Yunnan women’s team.

In the individual all-around, Liao Runtian and Wang Weijian were the leaders.

The compulsory competition for gymnastics in this National Games starting on the 18th ended today. After three days of initial competition, among the 14 men’s teams that participated in the competition, the Shanghai team had the best total score (281.45 points), followed by the People’s Liberation Army (281 points); Among the nine women’s teams, the Yunnan team had the best performance (182.459 points), followed by the Guangdong team (181.759 points). In the men’s individual competition, the first place in the total score of the six compulsory routines was the famous PLA competitor Liao Runtian, who scored 57 points (out of 60 points); Shanghai rookie Yang Mingming scored 56.95 points, taking second place. In the women’s individual competition, Guangxi star Wang Weijian has the highest total score in the four compulsory routines.


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  21, 1965

Results after the Optional Routines

On the men’s side, the People’s Liberation Army came from behind to defeat the Shanghai team.

The gymnastics competition that began on the 18th was even more exciting today.

In the men’s team competition, the Shanghai team that competed today closely followed the People’s Liberation Army, which achieved excellent results in yesterday’s optional competition, but in the end, the Shanghai team was still behind by a difference of 0.20 points and ranked second. The five players in the People’s Liberation Army achieved a total score of 564.15 points for the compulsory and optional routines, taking a leading position. At the end of the compulsory competition a few days ago, the Shanghai team was in first place with 281.45 points, 0.45 points more than the People’s Liberation Army, which was second at the time.



Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  24, 1965

Note: With a 656.85, the People’s Liberation Army won the men’s team title at the first National Games title, as well:


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), October  14, 1959

In the men’s all-around, Yu Liefeng was fourth after compulsories but bounced back to finish in second. Liao Runtian held onto his lead after compulsories and finished first.

The men’s individual all-around competition is fiercely contested. Many times national champion Yu Liefeng (Shanghai) only ranked fourth in points at the end of the compulsory competition. He rushed to catch up in the optional competition, and in the end achieved a total score of 114.25 points for the compulsory and optional routines, but he still lags behind the People’s Liberation Army player Liao Runtian and occupies second place. Liao Runtian’s all-around score is only 0.50 points ahead.


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  24, 1965

Note #1: Yu Liefeng was 15th in the all-around at the 1962 World Championships. That was the highest finish for the Chinese men in the all-around in Prague.

Note #2: I recognize that it’s impossible to compare scores across meets. But had Liao scored a 114.75 at the 1966 World Championships, he would have tied for fourth place with Miroslav Cerar of Yugoslavia.

Wang Weijian also held onto her lead from compulsories and dazzled the audience with a full-twisting salto on floor to win the women’s all-around title.

In the women’s optional exercise competition this afternoon, Wang Weijian (Guangxi), the individual all-around champion of women’s gymnastics in the first New National Games, successfully turned 360 in the air in floor exercise, uneven bars and vault. The high skill won warm applause from the audience. Her scores in these three optional routines [floor, bars, and vault] are all above 9.8 points (out of 10). So far, her all-around total for compulsory and optional routines is 76.431 points (maximum score of 80 points), ranking first.


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  24, 1965

Note #1: Full-twisting saltos on floor exercise were still rare in 1965, and scoring 9.8+ on three routines was fantastic.

Note #2: Again, I recognize that it’s impossible to compare scores across meets. But had Wang scored a 76.431 at the 1966 World Championships, she would have finished 6th, just ahead of Larisa Petrik of the Soviet Union.

On the women’s side, Jiang Shaoyi of the Yunnan team was the runner-up in the all-around. The Yunnan women’s team took first; the Guangdong team finished second.

The team and individual all-around competitions of the gymnastics competition of the Second National Games have ended today. The People’s Liberation Army and the Yunnan team won the men’s and women’s team championships respectively. The Shanghai team and the Guangdong team were the men’s and women’s team runner-ups respectively. Liao Runtian, 24, of the People’s Liberation Army, and Wang Weijian, 19, of the Guangxi team, won the men’s and women’s individual all-around championships respectively. The runner-up of the men’s all-around was Yu Liefeng of the Shanghai team. The runner-up in the women’s all-around was Jiang Shaoyi of the Yunnan team.


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  25, 1965

By the way, the Yunnan women’s team score was 370.45:


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  24, 1965

Note #1: In case you’re unfamiliar with Chinese geography, Yunnan is in the southwest of China. Guangxi is in the south of China. So, both Wang and Jiang had long journies to Beijing (in the north) for this competition.

Perhaps without knowing it, contemporary gymnastics fans are familiar with Guangxi. The region’s current capital is Nanning, which is where the 2014 World Championships were held. Nanning is about 1,270 miles (2,040 km) from Beijing as the crow flies.

China-North Vietnam Border Area, 1965, Library of Congress
Note: Guangxi is romanized as Kwangsi on this map.

Note #2: Jiang Shaoyi would go on to win the women’s all-around title at the 1974 Asian Games, which was one of China’s first major international competitions after a long hiatus. In Tehran, she also won the beam and floor titles and tied with Jo Yoon-hi of North Korea for the bars title.

 To synthesize things…

Men’s Team

  1. People’s Liberation Army: 564.15
  2. Shanghai: 563.95

Women’s Team

  1. Yunnan: 370.45
  2. Guangdong

Men’s All-Around

  1. Liao Runtian, People’s Liberation Army: 114.75
  2. Yu Liefeng, Shanghai: 114.25

Women’s All-Around

  1. Wang Weijian, Guangxi: 76.431
  2. Jiang Shaoyi, Yunnan

More About Liao Runtian

After Liao’s all-around victory, the newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army printed a profile on him. Here’s a translation…

In the gymnastics competition of the Second National Games, the 23-year-old comrade Liao Runtian of the People’s Liberation Army won the individual all-around championship with an excellent score of 114.75.

Comrade Liao Runtian, a member of the Communist Party, under the cordial guidance of the party organization, has learned and used Chairman Mao’s writings, has practiced hard skills and made rapid progress. He has been named one of the five best athletes for four consecutive years. He has participated in many domestic and foreign competitions. He has won a total of 23 individual and all-around championships, which have been won for the people of the motherland.

Comrade Liao Runtian understood that if you want to be skilled, you must first have clear thinking, so he usually studies Chairman Mao’s works diligently, and whenever he encounters a problem, he consults Chairman Mao’s works. He repeatedly learns and uses Mao Zedong Thought to guide his training and competition.

In order to be truly technically tough, he trained, worked hard, and, with the spirit of a foolish man trying to move mountains, he was solid, not afraid of fatigue, and took the initiative to increase his strength and hardness. When someone else does it once, he does it twice. For example, in the past he used the rings to do an “iron cross,” and his strength was insufficient, so he made up his mind to practice his arm strength. In the morning, braving the cold wind of late autumn, he took off his clothes and “attacked” the cross. In the evening, he moved the barbell to his room for exercise to increase his physical strength.

Another characteristic of Comrade Liao Runtian is that he is eager to learn and progress, and he is never complacent. He firmly remembers Chairman Mao’s teaching “…Humans must constantly sum up experience, discover, invent, create, and advance. During the training process, create your own style according to the characteristics of your physical fitness.” For example, with the help of the trainer, on rings, in addition to maintaining high-intensity strength exercises, he also used straight arms to complete some of the giant swings that are popular in the world, and the final giant swing is connected to a full-twisting dismount. He has reached a new height, and his set of skills has entered the advanced ranks of the world. Comrade Liao Runtian always strives for perfection in every practice and every action, just like a portrait, intricately carved, meticulous, and continuous improvement.






Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  27, 1965

Note #1: Liao Runtian was part of the Chinese team that won gold at the 1974 Asian Games. He also won silver on rings in Tehran.

Note #2: Doing giants on rings with straight arms was a really big deal in the mid-1960s. When Voronin used that technique one year later, at the 1966 World Championships, it was the talk of the men’s gymnastics community.


How the Second National Games Were Characterized in the Newspapers

The second National Games are being held on the basis of the vigorous development of mass sports activities in recent years. Some of the players participating in this Games came from the coast of the East China Sea, some from the Pamirs and the banks of the Yarlung Zangbo River, some from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and the foothills of Changbai Mountain, and some from the subtropical Hainan Island. Among them were workers, peasants, warriors, herdsmen, serfs, teachers, students, and so on. Most of the athletes are ranked athletes, of which there are 1,128 athletes. The average age of the athletes of each delegation is mostly around 22 years old, and most of them are rising stars who emerged after the first National Games.

Compared with the first National Games in 1959, these Games will be held at a higher level. Athletes participating in competitions and performances in recent years have taken Mao Zedong Thought as a guideline. They have studied in the People’s Liberation Army, learned from Daqing (people working in hard labor), and learned from Dazhai (people working in agriculture). They have established great ambitions, have the motherland in their hearts, and look at the world. The level of technical skill has generally improved significantly. In the first eight months of this year, not only have table tennis players won five world championships at the 28th World Table Tennis Championships, but players in other sports have also made outstanding achievements, with 51 people breaking 21 world records 26 times, and 280 people breaking 149 national records 640 times, thus pushing the level of sports in our country to a new height.

Highlighting politics, leading business with politics, and implementing politics in competitions will be one of the characteristics of these Games. Athletes of various delegations participating in the competition generally pay attention to studying Chairman Mao’s writings. In the days of pre-competition training, many athletes are “training during the day and reading Mao’s selection at night.” They carried out a wide range of mutual learning and mutual help and common practice activities, showing a new revolutionary style. Athletes generally expressed that they should further carry out the activities of learning and helping during the Games, and jointly contribute to the improvement of the level of sports in our country.

According to Xinhua News Agency on the 10th, the “Sports Achievement Exhibition,” which reflects the great achievements of my country’s sports in the past 16 years, will be officially exhibited at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing from today. On the first day, more than 4,000 spectators were received.

This is the largest sports exhibition since the founding of New China. The exhibition is divided into six parts. It shows the rapid development of my country’s sports under the leadership of the Party Central Committee and Chairman Mao through a large number of photos, charts, real objects, and models.




据新华社十日讯 反映我国体育运动十六年来巨大成就的“体育运动成就展览会”,从今天起在北京中国美术馆正式展出。第一天就接待了四千多名观众。


Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September  11, 1965
Note: This article lists his age as 23, but in a previous article, it lists his age as 24.

Mao Zedong on Sports and Physical Culture

In the passage above and in the profile of Liao, Mao Zedong’s writings come up. To give you an idea of what Mao thought about sports and physical fitness, here’s an oft-cited passage. It comes his first article, “A Study of Physical Culture,” which was published in New Youth in April of 1917 — long before he became chairman of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949:

Our country is being drained of its strength. Public interest in martial arts is flagging. The people’s health is declining with each passing day. These phenomena deserve serious concern. Exponents of physical education have over the years failed to accomplish anything because they have never gotten to the root of the problem. Our country will weaken further if things are allowed to continue unchanged for long. It should be noted that athletic feats such as marksmanship and shot-putting are external skills that result from training, whereas muscular strength is something internal that enhances performance. How can a person shoot accurately or make a long-distance throw if he has a poor physique and is afraid of weapons? Muscular strength comes from training, which must be done conscientiously. Physical educators of today have devised a few methods, but they have failed to achieve the desired results. This is because external forces have little appeal to a public that is unaware of the real significance of physical education. What are its effects and how should one go about it? Since people are all at sea with these questions, it is only natural that little result has been attained. To make physical culture effective, it is imperative to activate the minds of the people and make them sports-conscious.

Qtd. in “Sport, Maoism, and the Beijing Olympics”

Sending and Receiving Radio Transmissions

Besides gymnastics, this was my favorite competition to read about from the Second National Games.

In the competition for sending and receiving radio messages that ended today, contestants from all over the country made persistent efforts to achieve good results. As a result, ten more people broke seven national records. Qi Feng of the People’s Liberation Army has created the best results in the country in the women’s automatic key long code, character code, and shortcode sending competition. Her three achievements are: long code sends 217 characters per minute (the national record of 173 characters), character code sends 208.6 characters per minute (national record of 176.8 characters), shortcode sends 232.8 characters per minute (the national record is 203 characters).

Li Ruqin, a competitor from Heilongjiang Province, also achieved the highest results in the country in the women’s hand key long code, short code, and character code sending competition. Among them, the character code transmission result is the most notable, with a score of 152.2 characters per minute (The national record of 141.6 characters), which is an improvement of 1.8 characters from the new result of 150.4 characters created in her first report on the 21st. The result of her long code is 108 characters per minute (the national record is 102.2 characters), and the short code is 142.2 characters (the national record is 133.2 characters).



Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), September 24, 1965

Thanks to Daniel for his help with the translations.

For the diligent readers of this site: You might be wondering why I’m jumping all over the place. Over the holidays, I was able to gain access to a Chinese newspaper archive, so I’m filling in a few details for the years that I’ve already covered on this site while I wait for a document to arrive from overseas. Once the document arrives, we’ll dive into the 1950 World Championships, as promised.

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