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Reddest Red Sun | Shades of Mao | MaoBody

From Geremie R. Barmé, Shades of Mao: The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader
(Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), pp. 25-26.
Reproduced with permission of the author.

In death, Mao's body belonged to the nation. Even from the time of his funeral "Mao as a person, with family and friends, was displaced by Mao as a transcendent revolutionary leader without a private domain of his own." (102) The memorial hall built to house his preserved body was itself a formalistic "embodiment" of China built by workers from throughout the country with materials from every province,(103) the last example of what has been called Mao's "participatory democracy." (104) The Lincoln-like statue of Mao in the entrance chamber of the Memorial Hall has behind it a massive picture of the rivers and mountains of China and in much writing about the dead leader his physical being and spirit have been equated with the landscape of the nation, and in many cases Mao's personal revolutionary history drained places of their own history and made them part of his own. During the new Mao Cult it was claimed that some tourist spots bore a physical likeness to the Chairman. There was, for example, the "Sun Peak" in Huizhou, Guangdong, which was said to look just like a Mao statue (105) and at "Mao Zedong Mountain" in Xinjiang the dead leader was regarded as having been "transubstantiated as a geographical feature of the national landscape." (106) The "geospiritual remerging" of the Leader with the Land reflected traditional ideas of ancestral return (107) and helped regional travel agencies exploit local geography so they could cash in on the new Cult and China's boom in tourism.

Mao's own corpse, on the other hand, was nothing less than "the biological structure of an historical monument," to use an expression favoured by Professor Yuri Denisov, Director of the Institute of Biological Structures in Moscow, the organization entrusted with the preservation of Lenin's body and the embalming of other socialist potentates. (108) Although plans to dispose of Mao's body and remove the Memorial Hall were mooted during the de-Maoification process of 1979-80, the Chairman remained in situ and from the late 1980s his body was often reproduced both in living tissue and in effigy for popular entertainment. The actors Gu Yue and Wang Ying, for example, played Mao in numerous big-budget historical films and multi-episode teleseries which were made before and during the centenary year of 1993. (109) In 1994, a wax effigy of the Chairman was modelled for public display in the Great Chinese Wax Works located in the Chinese Museum of Revolutionary History on the eastern flank of Tiananmen Square. As one commentator remarked upon seeing the lifelike icon of Mao: "He is the banner of the country, the soul of the people as well as being a Great Man. You enter and empower yourself with some of the energy of this Giant; when you leave you can be a more dignified and upstanding Chinese!" (110)

It is as an incorporeal presence, however, that Mao's influence reached beyond the grave. As Hua Guofeng, the transient Chairman who succeeded Mao (and attempted for a time to both look and write like him), said in his speech at the opening ceremony of the Mao Memorial Hall in September 1977: "Chairman Mao will always be with us; he will always be in the hearts of each comrade and friend among us; he will always live in the hearts of the Chinese people and of revolutionary people the world over." (111)


101. See Frederic Wakeman, Jr., "Mao's Remains," in James L. Watson and Evelyn S. Rawski, eds., Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990, p. 263.
102. Wakeman, "Mao's Remains," p. 281; and, A.P. Cheater, "Death Ritual as Political Trickster in the People's Republic of China," Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, issue 26, July 1991, pp. 85-94.
103. See David E. Apter & Tony Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic, Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1994, p. 313.
104. Cai Yongmei, "Maorede shangpinhua," Kaifang zazhi, 1993: 11, pp. 63-64.
105. Ann Anagnost, "The Nationscape: Movement in the Field of Vision," Positions, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1993), p. 601 & n. 31.
106. See Mark Elvin, "Tales of Shen and Xin: Body-Person and Heart-Mind in China during the Last 150 Years," in Thomas P. Kasulis, ed., with Roger T. Ames and Wimal Dissanayake, Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice, New York: State University of New York Press, 1993, p. 259. By having his ashes scattered after his death, Zhou Enlai achieved a "geospiritual return" with greater effect. Zhou was the first leader whose ashes were scattered after being cremated at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Crematorium and Columbarium. His cremation is also noted for being the longest (3 hrs) and producing the finest-quality ash. For these details, see Li Weihai, Weiren shenhoushi--Babaoshan geming gongmu jishi, Taiyuan: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 1993, pp. 266-267.
107. See Simon Sebag Montefiore, "History in a Pickle," The Sunday Times, reprinted in The Australian, The Weekend Review, April 15-16, 1995, p. 5. For details of the preservation of Mao's remains, see also Zhisui Li, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, pp. 16-25; and, Lincoln Kaye, "Mummy Dearest: The expensive art of preserving a great leader," Far Eastern Economic Review, 1 September, 1994, p. 17.
108. For details, see "Multi-Media Mao" below.
109. See "Suzao weiren," Beijing qingnian bao, 30 September, 1994, p. 4. This was not the first waxwork of Mao made for display in Tiananmen. See Zhisui Li, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, pp. 23-24.
110. Quoted in Wakeman, "Mao's Remains," p. 284.
111. See Renmin ribao, 30 September, 1979, quoted in "Mao's Thoughts, Not Mao's" in "Freedom of the Spirit," China News Analysis, 23 November, 1979, no. 1168, p. 2.

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