Mao's mausoleum dominates one end of Tienanmen square. I do not know of any other modern day leader who lays within such a monumental building; it seems ironic to me that this ancient practice was revived for the head of a Communist party! Mao's body is preserved inside with formaldehyde.
I joined the throngs of Chinese for a glimpse of the countries past leader. Young and old, urban and farmer, are all lined up alike, in typical Chinese fashion, between yellow lines painted on the pavement and kept in order by police yelling into bullhorns. Eventually the line splits in two and each line goes into one of two identical buildings to be screened by police and metal detectors. No bags or cameras are allowed inside. Afterwards the lines snake into the building. The first room you enter is huge, with a gigantic, white marble Mao sitting in a gigantic, white marble, shell patterned easy chair. Behind him, a 100 foot long needle point tapestry, depicting China's mountains, stretches across most of the wall. In front is a mini jungle of potted green plants and piles of roses.
From here you are herded down one of two halls and into the small inner chamber. Here, inside a glass enclosed area, two police officers stand guard over Mao's glass coffin. Mao's body inside is tiny, shrunken by death, and covered with the red hammer and sickle communist flag. His shoulders, clothed in a dark suit, are visible above the covering, as is his face, bathed in an eery, unnatural, golden light and looking stiff and waxy. The people are all quiet as they file by, straining for a better glimpse. In the next room, capitalism reigns in the display cases of Mao memorabilia for sale.
I walked outside into the cool air and stopped to turn and carefully study the faces of the people leaving. I have never seen a group of Chinese so quiet, so somber, and I wonder, what are they thinking?
Why are they here?
Are they paying their respects?
Are they casting off old shadows?
What memories are they reliving in their minds?
Finally, when we passed the outer gates where all the cheerful family members are waiting, yelling out, and snapping photos, finally then we re-enter the world of the living.