The 1972 Chinese Nationals were the first major domestic competition after the Cultural Revolution. Launched in 1966 by Mao Zedong, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution — in very broad terms — set out to preserve Chinese communism by purging remnants of capitalism.
From a sports perspective, the revolution majorly impacted China’s national and international involvement. For starters, most of the national teams were disbanded. Gymnastics was an exception:
Apart from table tennis, gymnastics, and athletics teams, most national teams were disbanded.Fong and Zhouxiang, “Sport in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)”
What follows is a translation of an article about the national championships in 1972. Unfortunately, the scores were not listed, but we can see which gymnasts would form the core of Chinese gymnastics as they started to compete in more international competitions in the early 1970s.
Reminder: The Chinese gymnastics team traveled to Yugoslavia and Romania before it held its first official national championships in 1972.
Among the juniors, you might notice a familiar name: Li Yuejiu, who tied for gold on floor exercise at the 1981 World Championships and who currently coaches in the United States.
The National Gymnastics Competition held in Nanning
The 1972 National Gymnastics Competition held in Nanning, which lasted for 12 days, ended on October 29, Xinhua News Agency reported in Nanning.
This competition is the first national gymnastics competition since the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and it is also a relatively large-scale competition since the liberation. Participants of the competition and performance were 537 male and female gymnasts and 88 acrobats from 25 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions across the country, as well as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Beijing Institute of Physical Education, etc. Among them are some well-known candidates in our country, and many young novices who have emerged in recent years. In the competition, the athletes aim high and strive to create new achievements to win honors for the socialist homeland.
The national gymnastics competition is divided into four groups: adult men’s, adult women’s, junior boys’, and junior girls’ groups. As a result of the competition, the six teams with the top overall scores were:
Adult men’s group: Shanghai team, Liberation Army team, Jiangsu team, Beijing team, Guangdong team, Hebei team.
[At China’s Second National Games in 1965, the top two teams were reversed: the People’s Liberation Army won, while Shanghai was second.]
Adult women’s group: Liberation Army team, Yunnan team, Anhui team, Guangxi team, Shanghai team, Jiangsu team.
[At China’s Second National Games in 1965, the top two women’s teams were: Yunnan and Guangdong.]
Junior boys’ group: Hunan team, Liaoning team, Beijing Institute of Physical Education team, Jiangsu team, Jiangxi team, Shanghai team.
Junior girls’ group: Hunan team, Liaoning team, Jiangsu team, Jilin team, Xinjiang team, Shaanxi team.
The six individuals with top all-around scores were:
Adult men’s: Yang Mingming of Shanghai team, Lin Chengda of Guangdong team, Yu Liefeng of Shanghai team, Yao Jusheng of Inner Mongolia team, Zhang Zhonglin of Beijing team, Liao Runtian of Liberation Army team.
[Note: In 1965, Liao Runtian won the all-around at China’s Second National Games. Yu Liefeng was the runner-up.]
Adult women’s: Jiang Shaoyi of Yunnan team, Ding Zhaofang of Anhui team, Ning Xiaolin of Sichuan team, Wang Weijian of Guangxi team, Tang Qixie of Anhui team, Jiang Shaomin of Yunnan team.
[Note: In 1965, Wang Weijian won the all-around at China’s Second National Games, and Jiang Shaoyi was the runner-up.]
Junior boys’: Zhang Zuqiang of Jiangsu team, Xiong Songliang of Guangdong team, Lin Zhenqiu of Jiangxi team, Li Yuejiu of Liaoning team, Peng Yaping of Hunan team, Chen Guojun of Zhejiang team.
Junior girls’: Wang Xuejun of Hunan team, Tang Jiyuan of Hunan team, Zhao Jimin of Liaoning team, Zhang Tong of Jiangsu team, Xin Guiqiu of Liaoning Team, Sun Dejun of Liaoning team.Jiefangjun Bao (PLA Daily), November 05, 1972
More about the Impact of the Great Cultural Revolution on Sports
Here is some more context about sports during this period of Chinese history. The late 1960s was a dark time with three ping pong players dying by suicide.
In May 1966, the violent political storm accompanied by intense ideological confrontation started in the Sports Ministry in Beijing, and then spread throughout every provincial and local sports commission.
This confrontation ultimately concerned the relationship between elite and mass sport. Was sport for some elite athletes or for the masses? Was sport for medals or for the health of people and defence of the country? The former was regarded as bourgeois ideology and the latter as communist idealism. Mao believed that, with Marshal He Long as the Minister of the Sport and with the latter’s close relationship with Liu Shaoqi, the Sports Ministry had become a black [i.e. capitalist or anti-communist] headquarters and could not be trusted. Consequently, on 12 May 1968 Mao’s Revolutionary Communist Centre Committee, the State Council and the Central Military Commission issued a Military Order to disband the sports ministry, as well as sports commissions at every provincial and county level.
The training system was broken up. Sports schools closed. Sports competitions vanished. Chinese teams stopped touring abroad. The table tennis team that had won 15 medals at the 1965 World Championships disappeared and missed the 1967 and 1969 Championships. Provincial and local teams were disbanded. Coaches and athletes were sent to the countryside and factories to do physical labour. For example, 47 provincial football teams were disbanded, and 1,124 football players and 115 coaches had to find job in factories and shops. Apart from table tennis, gymnastics and athletics teams most national teams were disbanded. Outstanding athletes were criticised as promising sons and daughters of the bourgeois, and their coaches were criticised and even beaten up. Less privileged athletes and coaches were encouraged to participate in criticism meetings and to beat the privileged – a sign of revolutionary commitment. Some outstanding athletes died in the violent revolutionary storm. Three famous world class table tennis players, Fu Qifang, Jiang Yongning and Yong Guotang, were accused of being spies, because they were originally from Hong Kong. They were criticised and even beaten up. The humiliation and physical torture were too much for them to bear. In the space of two months in 1969 the three athletes committed suicide in succession.Fong and Zhouxiang, “Sport in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)”
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