Meeting Mao

Hey Internetters! Welcome back to this blog! Quarantine time is ummm, going okay? It's been about a month now, and I find myself oscillating between settling-into-it and going-stir-crazy. Settling-into-it is at a slightly higher ratio, but going-stir-crazy is coming back just around the corner.

Anyway, today I want to tell you about the time when I met Mao. Mao is dead, so proceed with caution.


When I was 7, I went to see Mao with the rest of the first graders.

Mao was smacked right in the middle of the room, in the Mao Tse Tung Memorial Hall. We were a good 10 feet away, but we could see him. He was visible from the chest up, the rest of the body was covered by a red sheet with a golden hammer with a moon crescent painted on it*. He was wearing a grey button up, just like in the picture on Tienanmen Square and all my textbooks.

Mao looks pretty fat. And old. I thought. And exceptionally orange.

The coffin was really nice and fancy, it reminded me of the one they put Snow White in from my picture book. There were lots of pretty flowers surrounding him. However, I was a bit disappointed with the body. I thought he’d be paler and “deader”. It would’ve made it much more exciting. As an adult looking back on the experience, I have to say I still agree. I know, the whole purpose of dressing up dead people was so that they look like they’re relaxing peacefully blabla, but if I were the coroner*, I'd use my artistic license to leave it with a bit more “sense of reality”. First, I’d go easy on the orange paint, cause that's just distracting, you don't want people to think "he overdid it with the vitamins". Then, I would add a tinge of blood coming out at the lip corners, not a lot, just a small drop that you could still see at a distance, hinting that he may have died in a battle. It would add glamour and I think would fit with the whole theme of Great Leader of Communism. I think it's creepy when a body looks too serene, you’re left with too much room for imagination for how it actually looks like without all the make up on. Also, people don’t come to see a dead person to marvel at how good a job the make-up artist did, I'm just saying.

We were told to be quiet and walk in a circle around Mao. The teacher, Miss Zhang praised us and said we were the “good” class, that’s why we were selected to do this field trip. "What a great honour." She was almost tearful, "You should all be proud of yourselves. Did you know, our school is the only one selected in the whole city?" But we really didn’t do anything impressive, we were 7, all we did was walk in a line without falling apart. And WHY was that considered a reward? Snacks would've been much more preferable. Never mind though, that's just my adult brain, I remember 7 year old me liking it, it was different.

I told my mom after I came home, I thought she'd praise me for being a good student like my teacher said I was, but she had a completely different reaction: “That's sick! Why did they make you see that? First grade children should not be seeing a body, that is creepy and GROSS.” My mom was not on board with the school's priorities, rightly so. There were a lot of inconsistencies like this throughout my childhood.

Anyway. I did some research, it turns out Mao died of a sudden heart-attack, the officials at the time were in a panic trying to preserve the body. Mao's former doctor said he saw the head swell up “like a football” at first, but a week later, was noticeably smaller and the ears were much darker, so different that he thought it was a fake one. The official overseeing the freezing of the body dismissed that guy’s claim as a rumour and that he “wasn’t seeing right”. It's also pretty vague how exactly the process went.

So, there’s a chance the real Mao is out there somewhere, in somebody’s freezer. My theory is they distributed parts to different government figures as a symbol for how important they were. Deng Xiao Ping got the legs, Zhou En Lai got the head, and his wife got.... the penis?* And then, they went and found professional wax-figure-builders to make a new Mao: “Make it look dead. But then, paint on it again to look like an alive person just sleeping.” I wouldn’t put this past the communists.

I guess I’ll never know if the Mao I saw was the real Mao or wax figure Mao, but honestly, does it even matter?

*I mistakenly thought that the person who does the make-up on dead people are the coroner. That is not true, the coroner only investigates the cause of death. The real person who does the make-up is called a mortician. D'oh!

*That's not a hammer and moon crescent, it's a hammer and sickle. I just found out today. Embarassed. Now time to google what a sickle is.

* I really don’t know any government figures of that time or any time. I was gonna say they gave the body parts to Lenin and Stalin without realizing those guys died wayyy before. My knowledge of Mao’s friends (or just people he knew) end here.

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