50 Years Ago This Week: China in Turmoil

4 minute read

Milestone moments do not a year make. Often, it’s the smaller news stories that add up, gradually, to big history. With that in mind, in 2017 TIME History will revisit the entire year of 1967, week by week, as it was reported in the pages of TIME, to see how it all comes together. Catch up on last week’s installment here.

Week 2: Jan. 13, 1967

In a cover story about “China in Chaos,” TIME reported on what was happening in the latest struggle for power in China—or, rather, the magazine offered what it could. As publisher Bernhard M. Auer explained in a note to readers, “Nobody really knows precisely what is happening in China.” Few Western reporters were allowed to work within its borders, and—as far as they could tell—even Chinese citizens were having trouble keeping up as Mao Zedong’s fledgling Cultural Revolution, “erupted into stride and stridency so bitter that it produced widespread chaos and verged on civil war.”

“But though reports often clashed in detail, they left little doubt that the height of the battle was approaching between Mao and his hand-picked heir, Marshal Lin Piao, on the one hand, and the more pragmatic and liberal Politburo faction headed by Chinese President Liu Shao-chi on the other,” the story explained. “The Yugoslav news agency Tanyug reported that Peking was ‘flooded with posters and cartoons of a sinister nature, depicting numerous Chinese leaders’—and not forgetting to include Lyndon Johnson, whose caricature was attacked by children bearing spears.”

One of the many pressing questions was how long the chaos would last. All TIME could say was that “no one is willing to hazard how long the contest will go on, how much more turmoil and bloodshed there may be before the dust of Mao’s universe finally settles.”

Today, we do know the answer: Though some early accounts would place the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1969, now that period is generally said to have ended in 1976, a full decade after it began.

Bad idea department: A truly strange NASA/Defense Department joint project got coverage in the science section, with an article explaining that the idea behind “Project Able” was “to put into orbit mirror-like satellites that would reflect the sun and illuminate large areas of earth at night.” The potential applications ranged from search-and-rescue missions to combat scenarios. The scientists who expressed fears about the consequences of such a program, however, turned out to have no need to worry.

Something to keep an eye on: A short world-news item took note that “there were almost daily episodes of violence along the Israeli border” in this period. Though the Six-Day War would not begin until June, signs of things to come are already visible.

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Choice period detail: TIME’s crack reporters got to the bottom of a new trend:

In Washington suburbs, the newest teen-age game is called ‘rolling.’ In Michigan, where the practice has been going on for years, it is known as ‘threading the bushes.’ Around Houston, it’s called ‘wrapping.’ And in Salt Lake City and eastern Massachusetts, where the custom is even a trifle passe, it is known by the most descriptive title of all: ‘T.P.-ing.’ By whatever name, the goal is the same: to sneak out in the dead of night and shroud the victim’s house from chimney pot to privet hedge with yard upon yard of toilet paper, preferably the tinted or floral varieties.

Not-so-choice period detail: A previous report on the possible admission of women to Yale drew several letters from readers, including a poem sent in by one Nancy Greenberg, which had been written by a Yale alum of the previous decades who, it can be assumed, was opposed to coeducation. It included such rhymes as: “Will not our manly intellects / Be clouded o’er with thoughts of sex? / And possibly, in future years, / The football team will wear brassieres?”

Great vintage advertisement: Huge shrimp!

Coming up next week: Jan. 20’s cover subject is John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com