Picture this: Waiting in line for four hours in 90 degree heat to see a dead guy on display. My tour director in China thought seeing the well-preserved corpse of Mao Zedong would be a perfect way to spend my second morning in Beijing. Yikes.

When I arrived at Tiananmen Square,  a huge line was already forming around Mao’s Mausoleum. The paint I saw on the pavement the day before now made sense. The painted lines are lane markers so people know where to stand on days when the mausoleum was open.

The line around Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

Guards actively monitor the lanes to make sure people stand four-wide and that the line wraps around the building in an orderly fashion. However, the guard’s most important duty is to watch out for line-cutters and remove those who are not properly attired to view Mao. Flip-flops and cameras are not allowed!

The line was about three rings wide, which translated to about four hours of waiting. Line cutters are  a big problem and there weren’t enough guards to stop them all. We had to actively shoo away rude and impatient people from cutting in front of us. I don’t know if line-cutting is an open rebellion to the Western standard of queuing up or if these people really are that excited to see Mao.

Mao Zedong is a controversial historical figure, especially in the West. He is considered a brutal dictator responsible for millions of deaths, but in China his legacy is protected by propaganda both past and present. Despite the violence and death associated with his regime, many in China still view him as a hero. Even though he’s been dead since 1976, he still enjoys idol status and is worshipped by millions. The crowd surrounding his mausoleum is proof of his elevated status. Thousands of people carry flowers and other offerings, waiting for the chance to catch a glimpse of Mao Zedong’s body.

The entrance to the mausoleum is flanked by statues commemorating all those who fought alongside Mao.

Memorial to the soldiers who fought in the Communist Revolution
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

After passing through the memorial “gates,” the guards split the line in half – two people go to the right and two people go to the left. Upon entering the building, the guards tell people to keep moving unless they are leaving offerings.

After walking through small causeway, I found myself in the presence Mao lying on a platform and surrounded by bulletproof glass. Offerings of flowers, money, and gifts were piled up at the base of the glass enclosure. Those adding to the pile hit their knees in prayer.

As a history teacher, I found myself staring at a man I’ve only seen in textbooks. Even though I had to keep walking, I pondered his role in the world, while watching people leave offering and offering. Some even cried at the sight of him, the way fangirls do when they meet their favorite singer. Here I was in the middle, considering two very different sides to the same coin.

Within a few minutes, I was again outside. The line was still wrapped around the building full of people waiting for their moment with Mao. As they wait, they look upon his image on Tiananmen Gate.

Mao Zedong’s image on Tiananmen Gate
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

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Part of the A to Z Challenge!

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c.b.w. 2013

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