In the House of Mao

Chalk up another notch on the Dead Communist Leader Tour.

Today, Amy and I decided to keep things light, since our train leaves tonight for Shanghai. On the list of things to hit: Mao Ze Dong’s Mausoleum, and the Lama Temple. But first, the House of Mao…

When Mao finally kicked the bucket in the 70s, he was well into this 90s, something the Chinese are quite proud of (and probably cigarette companies, too, since he chain-smoked something fierce). When Mao died, they couldn’t simply bury him. He was (and still is) a driving force in Chinese life. So they built him a mausoleum. A big one. Nay, a gigantic one. One that rivals the size of small office buildings. All to house the not-really-decaying body of Mao.

To keep this in perspective, I’ve also been to Lenin’s Mausoleum. (That was 16 years ago.) It’s very small, by comparison — maybe 10×10 metres. This place is easy 100×100 metres. And four or so stories tall. There’s considerably more security around it than at Lenin’s tomb, even during the Soviet era.

Because of all the shady people about, and because we couldn’t find lockers to stow our stuff so we could go inside, Amy and I took turns. Amy went first, because I’d already seen a dead commie. When I asked her how she felt when she got back, her immediate response was “respectful”.

My turn. I had to stand in a line for about 10 minutes before they took a batch of about 40 people around the corner and inside the perimeter to see Mao. You pass by a small booth that sells fresh flowers to lay within the mausoleum building (though it’s interesting to note that the flowers are “laid” in a different room than Mao himself). Then up a set of stairs and into doors that wouldn’t be any different than an office building’s. Complete with revolving doors that can’t really be used all that often.

The atrium features a larger-than-life white marble sculpture of Mao, seated facing north. This is where some kind of trough exists for placing the newly-purchased flowers. (A cynic might suggest that the flowers are collected and taken to the booth for resale.) The line winds around the atrium to the left (east), down the side of the building, then back to the centre to enter the mausoleum chamber. In the centre of the chamber is the Big Guy himself. There’s a glass wall that separates you from him, and several soldiers standing on guard. Mao is contained within a glass sarcophagus, his body draped in what looks to be a Soviet flag. (The hammer and sickle are a symbol of the people, though it would seem more appropriate to use the Chinese flag … that’s just me.)

After being hustled through the Room of Mao, you enter into … a souvenir shop. No, I’m not kidding. I wish I were making that up. In fact, from the inside of the building all the way until you reach the perimeter again, it’s all Mao kitch. It’s tackiness on a level I can’t even begin to understand. The Soviets were never like this — Lenin’s tomb was a simple thing — even now, the Russians treat it with respect. (Although it’s said Lenin will be buried in St. Petersburg before too long.)

Seeing Mao was interesting, but not so much as all the grandeur surrounding it. People still worship the man (inasmuch as the officially Communist state allows worship), gathering in lines readily, half of whom buy flowers, for a man most never met and even more whom weren’t even alive during his tenure as Chairman. The legacy lives on…