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
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,
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
Positions, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1993), p. 601 & n.
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.