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Is Chairman Mao's Corpse Really Still on Display?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Communist Party of China's Politburo from 1943, and the Chairman of the Central Committee from 1945 until his death in 1976, was one of the most influential political figures of the modern era. His body was embalmed after his death, and is now on permanent display in Tiananmen Square.

Chairman Mao's corpse was preserved in spite of his own feelings before his death. He famously once said, “To chant ‘long live' is to contradict natural laws. Everyone has to die…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.” Given his feelings about bodies taking up space, it is quite a twist of fate that Mao's corpse takes up more space than most bodies on earth. Following his death of a heart attack in 1976, a cult of personality sprang up around him, and the display of his remains forms a central focus of that cult.

Preserving the chairman's corpse was not an easy task for the Party after his death, as China at the time didn't have the necessary expertise or technology to embalm a body at the level needed to ensure its longevity. Since China had split with the Soviet Union, the experts in the field, they had to turn to Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communist regime had already acquired the information and supplies from the Soviets in order to preserve their own pivotal leader, Ho Chi Minh, although he also did not wish to be embalmed. Chairman Mao's body is on display in an ornate mausoleum. The mausoleum itself is a marvel of design and supplies.

People from all over China took place in its design, and it famously uses parts from around the country: pine from Shaanxi, rock from Mount Everest, pine from Jiangxi, quartz from the Kunlun Mountains, saw-wort from Xinjiang, porcelain from Guangdong, granite from Sichuan, and even soil from the Taiwan Straits. More than 700,000 people took part in the construction, most symbolically lifting a brick or tamping something into place.

Entering the mausoleum, one sees a huge statue of Mao seated on an armchair, in imitation of the famous Lincoln Memorial. Chairman Mao's body lies in state within an enormous crystal sarcophagus, and is constantly surrounded by flowers. His body lies in state during the day, for visitors to file past and offer thanks, pay homage, or simply stare, and at night his body is placed in an elevator and taken deep underground into an earthquake-proof chamber.

The practice of keeping figures of state preserved for posterity, has existed for thousands of years, with the most notable cases being those of the ancient Egyptians. Only in recent years, however, have they been able to be well enough preserved to be fully displayed. Chairman Mao's body joins the ranks of Lenin, Kim Il-sung, Stalin, and Ho Chi Min as leaders who have had their remains fully preserved to be displayed.

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Discussion Comments
By anon324089 — On Mar 08, 2013

A personality cult sprang up--following his death? Ha Ha. Listen to truth. A cult of personality existed since the early part of his reign--started by *him* and enforced by murder and torture. Trying to lessen the apparent macabre lunacy of having his body on interminable display by saying it's been done for eons is absurd. None have been kept in public view except Lenin--and now Chavez--so it seems to be a practice of Socialist atheists who need to keep their "gods" around for eternity. And they think Christians are crazy. Obama will probably be next.

By anon296471 — On Oct 11, 2012

Don't place your cultural bias into another culture's history. In other words, don't take Mao out of context of what he did to be considered a hero for China. In the context of Japan's aggression towards China, he was loyal to his country and his people without compromise.

By anon263563 — On Apr 25, 2012

Mao was one of the biggest mass murderers in history. China continues to brainwash its students that he is a hero; absurd of course, but it goes to show you how rhetoric can be used for good or evil purposes, and certainly Mao was evil in all respects. There is no such thing as a "good Communist."

The lies of Mao need to stop for China to began to change -- change which the Chinese people deserve, no thanks to Mao.

By hangugeo112 — On Jan 08, 2011

When a party member confronted Mao about his violation of the Confucian Golden Rule: "don't do unto others as you wouldn't have them do unto you," Mao responded with a flat opposite, stating that his policy, in effect, was to do to others exactly what he didn't want done to himself.

By Armas1313 — On Jan 05, 2011

Chairman Mao's little red book was a brilliant treatise on guerilla warfare and a laying-out of necessary communist ideals for China's future. While much of his rhetoric was helpful, Mao was fairly incompetent when it came to working out the details of planning his ideas. The autonomy of his thinking was created because he squelched all opposition and dared people to make suggestions merely for the sake of weeding them out.

By Renegade — On Jan 03, 2011

Mao had millions of people who literally worshiped him. Determining the difference between people who truly loved him and those who faked it because of fear seemed to have been one of his goals in life, and he issued commands for people to do ridiculous and counter-cultural things to prove how willing they were to prove their admiration. In such an environment which Mao created, psychologically disturbed and violent people were brought to high positions.

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