Tiananmen Square

Chairman Mao's Mausoleum
Chairman Mao's Mausoleum

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Shortly after midnight on September 9, 1976, Mao died at the age of eighty-two. There was a ten-day period of national mourning. All loudspeakers and radio stations broadcast somber music. Newspapers, bordered in black, carried the obituary issued by the Central Committee depicting Mao as "the greatest Marxist of the contemporary era," and declaring that "the radiance of Mao Zedong Thought will forever illuminate the road of advance of the Chinese people." At three p.m., on September 18, all the people of China were ordered to stop their work and stand in silence for three minutes. A million people filled Tiananmen Square and all trains, ships, factories, and mines throughout the country were ordered to sound their whistles and sirens in salute.

To chant "Long live!" is to contradict natural laws. Everyone has to die sooner or later, whether they be killed by germs, crushed by a collapsing house, or blown to smithereens by an atom bomb. Anyway, one way or another everyone ends up dead. After people die they shouldn't be allowed to occupy any more space. They should be cremated. I'll take the lead. We should all be burnt after we die, turned into ashes and used for fertilizer.

--Mao Zedong, in comments made when signing "A Proposal that all Central Leaders be Cremated after Death" in November 1956

Mao Zedong, the founding leader of the People's Republic of China, its gaozu as first emperors in China were traditionally called, is now the only permanent resident of the Square. Following his death, Mao's corpse was preserved for posterity. The mausoleum is more than a tomb, it's a grand villa. There is a white marble armchair inside as you enter with a massive statue of Mao seated on it in imitation of Abe Lincoln. Behind this statue a massive mural features the mountains and rivers of China, the geopolitical realm of Mao's posthumous rule. In the crypt one can find Mao's body lying in state on a bed covered in a crystalline sarcophagus and surrounded by flowers. Like so many others in Beijing these days, Chairman Mao goes to work everyday travelling from the nether world by elevator to be on display for tourist and faithful alike. At night his body retires after the last visitors have left to lie in an earthquake-proof chamber deep in the bowels of Tiananmen Square.

Side halls in the Mausoleum contain relics of other "first generation revolutionary leaders" -- Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De and Zhou Enlai -- making this monument a true Ancestral Hall of the Revolution.

Any investigation of this modern site would take the pilgrim to other comparable traditional ancestral halls in the Chinese capital like the Tai Miao, or Ancestral Temple, used for the worship of deceased emperors standing next to Tiananmen Gate and renamed the Workers' Cultural Palace (the Cultural Palace itself has often been used by the Communist rulers to display the remains of government rulers during state funerals). Then there is the Confucian Temple in the north-east of the old city or the Daoist Dagaodian on the north-west corner of the Imperial Palace which also once brimmed with cultural significance and now are sequestered in the cement highrise of new Beijing.

For more about Mao since 1976 and the Mausoleum, see the excerpt by Geremie R. Barmé in Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader, and a sketch by Yau Ma Tei, a satirist born in Peking in 1929, called "Maosoleum." See also an article by Wu Hung, "Tiananmen Square: A Political History of Monuments," in Representations 35, Summer 1991.

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