Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (Mausoleum)

It was only after my fifth attempt that I was able to finally enter Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the mausoleum of Mao Zedong, located in Tiananmen Square.

My first attempt was a few months ago, when the mausoleum was closed because of either the Dragon Boat Festival or the twenty-second anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre (and Tank Man). My second attempt, last week, it was closed because I arrived too late in the day. My third attempt, it was closed for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan, not to be confused with the People's Republic of China, i.e. China). My fourth attempt, I was denied because I didn't have my passport. Today I entered, but only after waiting in line for an hour, with thousands and maybe tens of thousands of Chinese citizens waiting to pay tribute to the founding father of the PRC, and the first Chairman of the Communist Party of China.

There are no photographs allowed inside the mausoleum, which is not surprising. Unlike some places where photography is not allowed, I'm relatively certain that using a camera inside the mausoleum would not result in a wag of the finger, but more likely an arrest.

While waiting in line, you're never actually waiting. The line is always moving. When you enter the building, you first enter into a large foyer, where there is a large marble statue of Mao Zedong, with his legs crossed casually, that is surrounded by thousands of poinsettias. Behind him there is a massive, rural landscape portrait. In front of all that, there is a collection of white flowers left by visitors, who can rent the flowers before entering the Memorial Hall. The flowers are three 元 (about fifty cents) and are almost certainly resold until they're dead, or perhaps they're plastic and resold indefinitely. I'm not sure. I wasn't about to buy flowers for Mao.

Mao is lying in repose in a glass box, and under bright lights, his hair badly receded. He is on display wearing the typical Mao suit, a Chinese tunic suit known in China as the Zhongshan suit: drab, grey, too many buttons. Most of his body is covered with a red blanket decorated with the iconic hammer and sickle made famous during the Soviet era. The glass enclosure in which he's kept is decorated with red Chinese stars on the base of each side (i.e. Mao's right and left side), and on the side by Mao's feet there is again the hammer and sickle.

You are not allowed to stop and look. Visitors must always keep moving. From the time you enter the room with Mao, you've got maybe 20 or 30 seconds to stare as you slowly shuffle past, with guards constantly trying to hustle the crowd to move faster to accommodate the thousands of people in queue. You never get closer than about 20 feet. The base of the fourth side of the glass enclosure, the side by Mao's head, has the dates of his birth and death (1893 - 1976).

Mao never wanted to be buried, let alone put on display. He wanted to be cremated. But like Lenin, who wanted to be buried in Saint Petersburg along with his mother, his allure is too great and his influence too strong. He's been dead 35 years, and he'll probably be on display for at least another 35 years. Lenin has been on display in Moscow for nearly 90 years, with no end in sight.

The experience is surreal, not as creepy as I would have expected, and recommended for anyone in Beijing, not only to see Chairman Mao lying in repose but also to view the Chinese people viewing Mao: buying flowers, bowing repeatedly at his statue as though he was Buddha, and generally filling the room with an excitement that rises about the creepy aura of death.