I’m not the biggest fan of Mao Zedong but I’ve always been fascinated by his Mausoleum. His 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.
Earlier this week after visiting some more famous and colourful sites, I finally saw Mao’s Mausoleum.
Timing & the Queue
Several friends told me that queues are really bad there so I decided to avoid the crowds and get there just after the 8am opening time. Leaving the hostel took longer than expected (comfortable bed) and I did not arrive at Tiananmen Square until just after 9am. The mausoleum is only open from 8 to 12 so by 9am the queue had already started and stretched out of site.
Using google earth I later calculated that the queue that morning was over 1 kilometer long and that was a quiet day. Scared to imagine how long the queue would be on the weekend when the masses of domestic tourists and hordes of foreign tour groups converge on Beijing.
The queue keeps moving at a slow walking pace so you are not stuck in the line for too long. I was in the queue for one hour and twenty minutes and that included being kicked out of the queue for carrying a bag and having to race to a locker room, come back and start again from the back of the queue. You can keep yourself entertained by people watching and chatting to your neighbours so the queue becomes a kind of enjoyable part of the travel experience.
I’ve been to many airports, train stations and travel sites in China and never encountered the tough security and restrictions that are in place for the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. You are not allowed to take bags, purses, cameras, video devices, drinks or food into the Mausoleum. There are security guards spaced at 10 meter intervals along the queue who are very vigilant and will pull you out of the queue if you have any of these forbidden items. They are very strict and do not negotiate. You either get rid of the forbidden item or you don’t see the Mausoleum.
I managed to get 40 to 50 meters into the queue before being pulled out and told to take my backpack to a near by locker room. Taking your gear to the locker room is not as bad as it sounds and the locker room 40 meters or so from the start of the queue. You cross a road to the east of the mausoleum that runs parallel to he queue, pass a security check point and you are in the locker room. I was a little reluctant to part with my backpack because I keep a work laptop in it with other gear that is too valuable to be left in the hostel. The security is very good at the locker room and the staff are professional so no need to worry about leaving your belongings there. The locker fee is only 10 rmb.
There is also a very strict dress code for the Mausoleum. You cannot wear any clothing with out sleeves so singlets and tank tops are out. Thongs or casual sandals are also forbidden and you cannot wear a hat while in the mausoleum. After checking in my back pack, one of the staff explained to me that my singlet (part of my summer travel uniform) was not acceptable. Luckily I had a shirt in my bag and quickly stripped and changed clothing in the middle of the locker room.
Back in the queue
Bagless, bereft of my camera and feeling very over dressed, I quickly joined the end of the queue that was at least one hundred meters longer than when I left it around 10 minutes earlier.
One other restriction is that you need to have your Chinese identity card or foreign passport in hand when you pass through a security point at the entrance to the Mausoleum. To show how tough security is, a number of people were pulled from the queue at the mausoleum entrance after failing the security check there. These poor souls had been lining up for over an hour only to be told due to a problem with their ID or dress that they could not enter. That would really hurt.
The final security check is identical to what you find 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.
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 Mausoleum itself
The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong consists of two rooms. The front room has a landscape of mountain peaks and clouds covering the entire back wall with a statue of Mao seated on a large chair (throne) in the middle of the room facing the 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. The queue splits into two lines with one line veering to the left of the altar and the other line veering to the right. The entire area in this room is roped off with just two small lanes for the two lines of tourists and a small area in front of the altar. I took the left lane which was a little less crowded.
The second room holds Mao’s body and coffin. His body is laid in a coffin with a transparent crystal lid that is housed in a glass room that is roped off from tourists. 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.
The entire walk from the entrance of the Mausoleum to the exit took just over 6 minutes. The guards do not allow dawdling or rubber necking and herd tourist through the Mausoleum very quickly. Any one attempting to stall will be scolded and told to move on. Could not help feeling a little cheated only having 6 minutes in the mausoleum after lining up for over an hour. At least I can now say I’ve made the pilgrimage and seen Mao Zedong.