Sunday, May 05, 2013

A very strange sight in Tiananmen Square and photos from the Forbidden City

Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square
Massive Tiananmen Square is the beating heart of Beijing. The huge plaza, capable of containing a million people, is bordered on the north by the Forbidden City, where Chinese emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties ruled China for 500 years. On the eastern side of the plaza is the National Museum and on the west is the Great Hall of the People. In the middle sits the Mausoleum of one of the 20th Century's most influential persons, Mao Zedong --that is, Chairman Mao.

Chinese honor guard. It's all business with these guys.
I'd heard that the good Chairman yet lies in state, 37 years after his death, and that was confirmed by Sunflower, our tour guide. Whatever it may say about the morbid demons that drive my curiosity, I found the opportunity impossible to resist. So I overcame Brother Calee's indifference and we queued up to join eager Chinese citizens in the long but fast moving line.

What the hell was that?
Cameras and cell phones are forbidden in the mausoleum, so we handed ours over to Sunflower, who remained outside. I toyed with the idea of bringing my little digital in with me to try and squeeze off a shot on the sly, but you know, the stone-faced soldiers that stood at the entrance convinced me that it was not such a good idea.

We joined a human river that flowed steadily into a vast, dim hall. A red curtain obscured the southern wall. The high ceiling was lost in shadow.

Two streams of humanity flowed across the marbled floor, never pausing, past a glass case. Within it was a strange sight. A figure lay horizontally on a platform, as if in sleep. A bright red flag, adorned with yellow hammer-and-sickle covered the figure from mid-chest down. A yellow glow seemed to emanate from within the head. The experience had a dream-like quality that makes my recollection uncertain, but I do remember catching a whiff of recognition in the shape of the head, the soft flesh under the chin, the round face, crowned by the high forehead and the crescent of dark hair. Yes, that's what I remember from the photographs. My God! Is it real?

Modern Chinese artist's interpretation
The whole thing was over before I could fully grasp it. The human river flowed inexorably and soon enough we found ourselves back out in the sunlight. Sunflower met us at the exit and we went from there to tour the Forbidden City.

But it was a strange sight. A very strange sight, indeed.

Chairman Mao. I'll be damned. That was Chairman Mao.

That guy in the portrait looks familiar...
Photos from the Forbidden City

Back to Shanghai tomorrow!

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