Despite his wish to be cremated, after his death Mao Zedong’s body was embalmed and placed on display in a large Mausoleum just south of Tiananmen Square. His body is now on public display and visited by countless numbers of tourists and local Chinese every year.
The Mausoleum is one of the very few travel sites in Beijing that does not have a history stretching back hundreds of years. Mao Zedong died in 1976 and the construction of the Mausoleum began the same year on November the 24th. Construction on the mausoleum was completed less than half a year later on the 24 of May 1977 when the mausoleum was opened to the public.
The mausoleum does have one historical claim to fame. It was built on the site of China’s historical “Gate of China”. The Gate of China was built during the reign of Emperor Yongle (1402-1424) of the Ming Dynasty and was the symbolic southern gate of the imperial city. The gate was largely ceremonial and had no ramparts or walls.
Following the defeat of the Kuomintang in 1949 and the beginning of Mao’s class struggle that followed, major changes where underway in Beijing and one of those changes was the destruction of Gate of China in 1954 to expand Tiananmen Square. Ironically it was Soviet advisors who recommended the demolition of the Gate of China. The Mausoleum was built on the site of the Gate of China 23 years later.
Structure and Layout
The mausoleum is an architectural eye sore in the heart of Beijing’s travel district just south of the Forbidden City. It is a part of Tiananmen Square and impossible to miss when you travel through the centre of Beijing.
The ground floor of the building is the only part of the building that is accessible to the public and consists of the North Great Hall, the Memorial Hall and the South Great Hall.
North Great Hall – This hall is the entrance to the Memorial Hall and has a 23.7 meter by 6.6 meter landscape of mountain peaks and clouds called “The Vast Homeland” covering the entire back wall. The hall also has a larger than life (3.45 meters tall) marble statue of Mao seated on a large chair (throne) in the middle facing the hall entrance. There is a raised area similar to an altar in front of the statue that is accessible to visitors for people to leave the yellow flowers and bow to the statue.
Memorial Hall – Contains Mao’s body which is laid in a coffin with a transparent crystal lid that is housed in a glass room that is roped off from tourists. Mao is wearing a blue Sun Yat Sen uniform and his body is covered by the flag for the Communist Party of China. There are two narrow lanes along the walls to the left and right of the coffin for tourists to pass through the room and view Mao. The lighting and coloring of the room is very sombre and serious, the guards expressions very grim and Mao’s body in the center of the room a little creepy so definitely not the place for conversation or light heartedness. The guards scold anyone talking loudly in this hall.
South Great Hall – This is the exit to the memorial and is not even a room, much less a real hall. I’m guessing it is called the South Great Hall because the Great South Exit sounds silly and undignified.
Rules, Restrictions and Security
I’ve been to many places in China and The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is most regulated and secure place I have ever seen. The mausoleum security easily surpass the security you see and modern international airports and I’ve listed below items that are not allowed into the mausoleum
-bags of any type
There is also a very strict dress code where sleeves are required and clothing such as singlets and tank tops are not permitted. Foot wear such as thongs/flip flops and basic sandals are also not allowed. Hats are also not allowed to be worn in the mausoleum itself. To avoid trouble, make sure you dress appropriately before visiting the mausoleum and don’t take anything that is not essential.
There is a very secure locker room near the queuing area where belongings can be left for 10rmb. You’ll be pointed in the direction of the locker room by security if they pull you from the queue for having prohibited items or clothing.
The queue generally starts in Tiananmen Square to the north of the mausoleum, stretches all the way to the southern exit of the mausoleum and finishes back the northern entrance. Depending on the time of year and day that you go there, the queue may be over 1 kilometer long and take over an hour to complete.
Security guards are stationed at intervals of around 10 meters along the queue and are extremely strict about pulling people out of the queue who are dressed inappropriately or carrying prohibited items. This is one of the most politically sensitive areas of China so if you are told to leave the queue, smile and comply.
At the end of the queue at the entrance of the mausoleum is a security check point similar to those found at airports where you walk through the doorway like scanners and if there is any beeping or if you look suspicious, security staff will take you aside and scan you individually.
You need to present your passport or Chinese identity card for inspection at this part of the queue. After the check point just before you enter the Mausoleum there is a kiosk and several vendors that sell yellow flowers (daffodils?) as offerings for Mao. There are also constant verbal and written warnings to keep quiet, behave respectfully and turn of the sound on your mobile phones.
The time you’ll actually spend in the mausoleum itself will be around 4 to 6 minutes. Stopping in the mausoleum is prohibited and guards will not allow you to dawdle or rubber neck.
The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is in the exact center of Beijing so getting there is very easy. You can catch the subway to Tiananmen Square East or West stations on line one and to Qianmen station on line two.
There are also countless buses you can catch that stop at or very near the mausoleum.
Tickets & Times
Admission to the mausoleum is free which is admirable because that means that even the poorest Chinese person has the right to see Mao Zedong in his mausoleum.
The mausoleum is open 8 to 12 Tuesday to Sunday.
Timing is critical to minimize the time spent queuing so I recommend you try to get to the mausoleum before 8 and join the back of the queue which hopefully will not be more than several hundred meters long.