The Body of Chairman Mao

Getting into Tiananmen Square was hard enough. We joined a large crowd of Chinese people, shuffling slowly forwarded. We waited while people looked at us strangely, pointed at our feet and laughing, not knowing if joining the group was even the right thing to do. Eventually we arrived at a security checkpoint, where our bags were x-rayed and our passports checked.

We were in.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Monument to the People’s Heroes

Tiananmen Square was a large open space where traffic was prohibited and areas roped off from pedestrians with guard posts throughout. At one end Tiananmen Gate, which lead into the Forbidden City, where a large portrait of Chairman Mao hung.

The Body of Chairman Mao

 

At the other, Mao’s Mausoleum, a building built solely for the purpose of housing his embalmed body. Our first port of call.

But first we had to jump through a number of hoops in order to enter.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Guard in front of the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

First we headed to an entirely different building, where we would have to check in any bags or cameras. While I was travelling in Vietnam I was able to visit the body of Ho Chi Minh so I had an idea of what may be required here in order to enter.

Back at the mausoleum we joined another queue, this one had a lot less people in it, and another security check point, this one just a visual inspection. As we approached the entrance there was a vendor selling white flowers. Almost every Chinese visitor in front of us purchased multiple flowers to take in with them.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Revolutionary statue in front of the mausoleum

Once we reached the entrance and went inside we were greeted by a large seated stone statue of Mao. In front of him a table so full of the white flowers they had been piled up on the floor behind. We watched as visitors placed their contribution with the others and then as a man with a large cart collected up the excess and wheeled them back out to the shop.

Moving through the corridors we came to a small room where the glass coffin was held. Inside lay a black haired Mao in a grey suit. It was a very strange moment which lasted less than a minute. We were ushered around the edges of the room before passing out the other side and into the gift shop.

The Body of Chairman Mao

National Museum of China

No one was prepared for Mao’s death. Like Ho Chi Minh he had requested to be cremated but after his death it was decided his body would be embalmed. Accounts vary but it is thought the process was rushed and ill prepared due to rocky relations with the Russians at the time. They were thought to be the experts as they had already used the technique to embalm the bodies of Stalin and Lenin, as well as assisting the Vietnamese with Minh’s body. It is said that instead they had to settle with verbal instructions from the Vietnamese and try their best.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Restricted areas and guard posts

Since 1977 his body has been here, in his purpose built mausoleum for the world to visit, with some days visitor numbers reaching well into the thousands. Today, who really knows if the body that lies there is in fact Mao’s. Rumours persist and it’s often thought that due to the process not being entirely effective the body had been replaced with a wax figure, highly believable as the process leaves the skin looking shinny and even wax like.

Further Reading:

Preserving Chairman Mao: embalming a body to maintain a legacy by The Guardian

A visitors account from 1997 Resting in Peace or in Pieces

The Tiger Temple

It has been a while since I have talked about tourism related topics on this blog but after seeing the news from the Tiger Temple in Thailand I couldn’t ignore it. For those who aren’t familiar with the recent news or the Tiger Temple in general I will quickly recap.

The Tiger Temple is a place in Thailand run by Buddhist monks with, supposedly, conservation at its heart. They allow the opportunity for tourists to see tigers at close proximity and even the chance to have a photo with an adult tiger or feed tiger clubs, of course for an extra charge.

There has always been speculation about the true intentions of the Tiger Temple and even about the welfare of the animals. It has been believed that the animals are sedated, as they were so relaxed around people and some even saying that their teeth and claws had been pulled when they were clubs.

Now in recent news their has been a raid on the facility and shockingly 40 frozen tiger clubs had been found in a freezer. What the tiger clubs were doing there is still unclear but the most likely reason is the temple has been breeding tigers and selling them to China for medicinal purposes.

When doing a Google search for the location of the Tiger Temple I was happy to see the message ‘permanently closed’ on my screen.

The Tiger Temple

To me this shows that conservation is far from their priority and the temple has always put making money first. I have travelled in Asia and also Thailand, I have visited Kanchanaburi (the province where the Tiger Temple is located) and knew about the Tiger Temple, but I never visited. Asia is full of these attractions created for the tourist dollar and I had decided to stay away from them. People are fooled to believe that their money or entrance fee is going to conservation or helping the animals in some way but, more often than not, that is far from the truth.

My closing message would be that we think carefully about how the money we give is being spent, especially when visiting less developed countries like in Asia. Of course many of us would jump at the chance to see a tiger close up, I know I would, but we have to ask ourselves at what cost. Do your research and if you are happy that the animals needs are put first, like they are in many zoos, then go ahead.

The Tiger Temple

Taken in Australia Zoo, Queensland

Further Reading:

Tiger temple scandal exposes the shadowy billion-dollar Asian trade – The Guardian

My experience on the Death Railway and Kanchanaburi, Thailand

The Darker Side of Tourism

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi, Vietnam

Everyday thousands of people queue to visit the embalmed remains of former leader Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum in Hanoi was completed in 1975 after two years of construction and six years after Ho Chi Minh’s death. Even though in his will Ho Chi Minh stated that he wanted to be cremated he body was embalmed and displayed in the building which has since been placed in a list of the world’s ugliest buildings.

Ho Chi Minh left behind a legacy that didn’t necessarily represent his life. His image is featured on the Vietnamese bank notes, public buildings and many homes, shortly after his death the city of Saigon was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and any critical opinions and publications of him are banned in Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh frequently being glorified.

After following an endless queue for more than a hour I entered the mausoleum. On every corner there was a guard and before I entered the room in which his body was displayed a guard removed hands from pockets, hats from heads and ensure absolute silence. I walked around the outside of the room with the glass coffin in the center of the room, after such a long time queuing I was only in front of the coffin for less than a minute. It was a very surreal experience.

Death Railway

On the way

Thailand

Riding the Death Railway in Thailand from Kanchanaburi, home of the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. The name comes from the amount of POW’s that died during the construction of the railway over 70 years ago, there are almost 5,000 tombstones in the cemetery at Kanchanaburi alone.

It is said that each railway sleeper used on the track equals the death of one person during its construction. It is predicted that around 90,000 people died during the construction of the railway. The above picture is taken at one of the most perilous points.

This post is in reply to the daily post photo challenge On the way.

Further reading:

Burma Railway: British POW Breaks Silence Over Horrors