Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mao's mausoleum

Today I visited the mausoleum of 毛主席 (Mao zhuxi or "chairman Mao"), as Mao Zedong is often known in China. The mausoleum is in the middle of Tian An Men square, and still attracts scores of visitors from all over China. Entrance is free, although you have to surrender your bag outside for security reasons, and pass through a metal detector. I had to wait in a queue with scores of Chinese visitors to get into the building itself, on a freezing cold november day. In the ante-chamber, the atmosphere becomes extremely solemn and quiet. Quite a lot of visitors leave bunches of flowers in the room, as a homage to Mao's memory. Some of them even bow in respect before leaving the flowers, as if they were making a religious offering. After slowly passing through the hall, you get to the smaller room which actually contains Mao's remains. You only get to spend about half a minute in the room before you are ushered out to make way for the other visitors. Mao's corpse is kept in a hearse with a hammer and sickle on the front, just a reminder that in China the government still officially professes to be communist, even though in Beijing communist symbols are not that visible anymore. From the brief glimpse I got of the chairman's remains, I could hardly even tell if the body was real or just a wax statue.

After leaving, I asked my Chinese friend who had accompanied me to the mausoleum how she feels about Mao Zedong. "I think he is a very romantic figure" she replied, "he wrote some very romantic poems".