Even though I am not a big fan of Mao Zedong, his MausoleumMausoleum has always grabbed my curiosity. His MausoleumMausoleum, in the heart of Beijing’s tourist district, just south of the Forbidden City, is a blight on the cityscape. It is a part of Tiananmen Square and is impossible to miss as you travel through Beijing’s central business district. Heard about security and queue?
After visiting several more well-known and colorful sites, I eventually made it to Mao’s Mausoleum earlier this week.
The Timeline and the Queue
I decided to dodge the crowds by arriving shortly after the 8 a.m. opening hour after hearing from several friends that the lines are very lengthy. It took longer than expected to leave the accommodation (excellent bed), and I arrived at Tiananmen Square just after 9 a.m. Because the tomb is only open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., a queue had developed and stretched out of sight by 9 a.m.
I later calculated, using Google Earth, that the queue was almost a kilometer long that morning and that it was a quiet day. I’m scared to imagine how long the queue would be on weekends when Beijing swarms with local tourists and foreign tour groups.
The line goes at a comfortable walking pace, ensuring that you do not have to wait too long. This is the point where companies take control of there customers satisfaction with virtual queue. I was in line for an hour and twenty minutes, which included being kicked out for carrying a bag and having to run to a locker room, return, and start the line again. While waiting in line, people watching and conversing with your neighbors may keep you entertained, making it an enjoyable part of the trip.
I’ve been to many airports, train stations, and tourist sites in China, but I’ve never seen anything like the degree of security and restrictions at Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum. The MausoleumMausoleum does not allow bags, purses, cameras, video equipment, drinks, or food. If you hold any of the banned items, security officials stationed at 10-meter intervals along the queue will remove you from the line. They are adamant in their refusal to compromise. You must either dispose of the banned item, or you will be unable to see the MausoleumMausoleum.
Before being pulled out and brought to a nearby locker room with my luggage, I got approximately 40 to 50 meters into the queue. The dressing room is just 40 meters from the start of the line, so getting your things to the locker room isn’t as tough as it seems. After going through a security checkpoint and crossing a road to the east of the MausoleumMausoleum that runs parallel to the line, you reach the dressing room. I was reluctant to leave with my luggage since it included a business laptop and other valuables that I couldn’t go at the hostel. You don’t have to worry about leaving your belongings in the locker room since the security is good and the personnel is kind. A locker costs just ten renminbi (RMB).
Dress code restrictions
Furthermore, the MausoleumMausoleum has a strict dress code. It is not allowed to wear singlets or tank tops without sleeves. Wearing thongs or casual sandals within the tomb is likewise banned, as is wearing a cap. After I checked in my bag, one of the staff members told me that my singlet (part of my summer travel uniform) was not acceptable. Fortunately, I had brought a shirt with me and could strip and change in the locker room quickly.
Getting back to the line
I quickly joined the end of the line, which was at least a hundred meters longer than when I left it about ten minutes earlier, bagless, cameraless, and feeling grossly out of place.
Another restriction is that while going through the security checkpoint at the Mausoleum’sMausoleum’s entrance, you must have your Chinese identity card or a foreign passport with you. After failing the security check at the tomb, many people were removed from the queue, showing how tight security is. These unfortunate people had waited in line for almost an hour just to be told they couldn’t go in because of a problem with their ID or clothing. That would be very uncomfortable.
The last security check is similar to what you’d see at airports, where you go through the doorway like scanners, and security officials take you aside and scan you individually if there’s any beeping or if you look suspicious.
After going through the checkpoint just before entering the MausoleumMausoleum, a kiosk and numerous vendors sell yellow flowers (daffodils?) as offerings for Mao. There are also regular verbal and written reminders to be quiet, courteous, and switch off your smartphones.
In and of itself, the Mausoleum
The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is split into two rooms. The main chamber’s back wall is covered with a panorama of mountain peaks and clouds, with a statue of Mao seated in the center of the room on an oversized chair facing the entrance (throne). An elevated platform in front of the monument resembles an altar where visitors may leave their yellow flowers and bow before the statue. The line splits in two, with one branching out to the left and the other branching off to the right of the altar. In this room, just two narrow paths for the two lines of visitors and a small area in front of the altar are roped off. Because it was less crowded, I picked the left lane.
The second room houses Mao’s body and coffin. His body is put in a coffin with a transparent crystal lid and stored in a glass room away from the public eye. Tourists may go inside the room and view Mao via two tiny passages on the left and right sides, respectively. The lighting and colors in the chamber are sad and solemn, the guards’ expressions are grave, and Mao’s body in the center of the room is a little frightening, so this is not a place for fun or debate. The guards admonish anybody who talks too loudly.
The walk from the entrance to the exit of the Mausoleum takes a little over 6 minutes. Tourists are not allowed to loiter or rubberneck and are rushed through the Mausoleum. Anyone found delaying will be chastised and told to continue. I couldn’t help but feel misled after standing in line for over an hour and just receiving 6 minutes in the tomb. At the very least, I can now claim to have met and seen Mao Zedong.