Mao, Lenin and Uncle Ho: A Trifecta of Communist Corpses
The bodies of work for Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin can be compared to each other endlessly with no clear winner. What can be definitively compared, however, are their actual bodies. Or at least what’s left of them. Morbid, right? As grim as it sounds, each of these leaders have been preserved after death for public display, despite all having their dying wishes of what to do with their bodies ignored.
I went to all three of their mausoleums within the span of two months, so here’s how they rank from worst to best in terms of the overall experience and the quality of the preservation work. Sadly, photos weren’t allowed in any of these mausoleums.
3. Mao Zedong in Beijing, China
Mao Zedong wished for cremation upon his death. However, when the chairman of the Community Party of China died in 1976, his wishes weren’t respected. Instead, his body was preserved for millions to see.
It’s an American saying to “go big or go home” but it seems apt to describe the tribute Chinese officials made to Mao Zedong. Housed in the center of Tiananmen Square, one of the largest public squares on Earth, the mausoleum manages to not be completely overshadowed by the famous Forbidden City and other landmarks.
Visiting the mausoleum is an overwhelming and distinctively communist experience. After I managed to find the place to drop off my bags – which was about 10 minutes away– I was treated to what must be one of the longest lines in modern history. I attended on a rainy weekday in August, so it was the busy summer vacation period but far from the busiest day of the year. The line – which snaked around for what could have been a mile or two– moved quickly and I rarely stopped. At some points, women with loudspeakers yelled at the people in line to hurry up in order to fill in some gaps in the line. Nervous-looking folks began jogging in order to make sure the lines kept going. It was like something out of a propaganda film.
After more than an hour of non-stop walking, I made it outside the mausoleum and the line slowed down considerably. Many people stopped to buy flowers. These flowers were brought inside and placed in front of an impressive marble statue of Mao Zedong in the first room of the mausoleum.
As for the body itself, I was very underwhelmed. Maybe it was partly due to the massive lines, but I was disappointed by the lack of an up-close view. The line was ushered through here quickly so it was hard to get a good look. Also, Mao is covered in a Chinese flag from his chest down. The preservation work also looked very waxy, although perhaps that was due to the harsh light shining on the chairman’s face. There are rumors that this is a wax copy of Mao’s body, but who knows for sure?
Admission is free but optional flowers to pay homage cost 3 Yuan (about 50 cents). Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. From July 1 to August 31, hours are changed from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
2. Vladimir Lenin in Moscow, Russia
Some people consider Vladimir Lenin, the former premiere of the Soviet Union, the father of communism. In addition to that honor, he’s the inspiration for his fellow communists that were preserved after death. He oversaw one of the most turbulent times in Russia history, which is saying a lot consider the country was overrun by Mongols, invaded by Napoleon and suffered through several coups.
Lenin died in office in 1924 and his wish was to be buried next to his mother away from Moscow in St. Petersburg. With his dead body still warm, he was embalmed and technology soon surfaced that allowed him to be preserved for much longer. Since then, the body has always been on public display except during wartime. His current mausoleum was built in 1930 in the Red Square, next to the Kremlin.
I arrived 15 minutes before the 10 a.m. opening time in August, and 30 minutes later I was let past the metal detector and security guards. On the way, I walked past the Kremlin Wall Necropolis where various leaders are buried. Among them is Josef Stalin, Lenin’s successor who used to be on display alongside with him. After Stalin died and his vast atrocities became known, he was demoted to this outside resting place. Awkward.
The mausoleum building is dimly lit inside and it took me a few moments for my eyes to adjust. Well-dressed soldiers directed the visitors downstairs, where Lenin is displayed in a glorious see-through sarcophagus. Lenin was a tiny man for just 5 feet four inches, and he looks especially small in his final resting place. He’s clad in a smart blue suit with one fist clenched and a peaceful look on his face. His skin seems to have a strange texture. I guess such things are expected after nearly 100 years of death.
Out of all three of these mausoleums, Lenin’s is the most likely to one day not exist. People are mixed on whether to finally bury the man or to continue displaying him, with some strong supporters coming out in support of the former. Vladimir Putin, however, is against this idea so it’s unlikely that anything will change in the near future.
Lenin’s Mausoleum is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
1. Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader of Vietnam who wrested control of his country from the Emperor, the French and then the Americans, was a man of simple tastes. Aside from his collection of foreign cars, he lived humbly and wished to be cremated upon his death in 1969 with his ashes scattered all over the country.
Too bad, said Vietnamese officials. Thus, the mausoleum was created with inspiration from Lenin’s resting place. Uncle Ho is beloved in Vietnam (at least in the northern parts, which “won” the Vietnam War against the south) and his mausoleum was created so that people could pay their respects to his well-preserved corpse.
In mid-July, crowds were light and the covered path to the mausoleum was long. As far as preservation work, Uncle Ho looks to be in great condition. His trademark facial hair is intact and you’re allowed a really good look at his body, which is dressed in humble uniform-like outfit. Dazzlingly dressed guards flank the outside area and hush kids speaking too loudly. Afterward, you can tour the presidential palace, Ho Chi Minh’s auto garage and his country-style home for an extra charge. It’s worth checking out.
This is probably the best experience out of the three Communist leaders. It’s also the best preservation job, so Uncle Ho is the finest of the bunch when it comes to his post-death work.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is closed on Mondays and Fridays but open on the other days from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
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