Tienanmen Square is big. How big? According to Wikipedia, it's the largest open urban square in the world, at 40.5 hectares. What's a hectare? Danged if I know, but what you see behind us here is a little less than half of it.
Behind us is the Forbidden City, which Justin blogged about in an earlier post. Ahead of us is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong - the literal Chinese translation is "Chairman Mao Memorial Hall." We simply referred to it as the "Maosoleum."
The Maosoleum is closed on Mondays, which torpedoed me the last time I was in China, but was open this time. We actually found that we didn't have to wait long - we spent more time crossing the street and dropping our worldly goods in the bag check than we did waiting to get into the building. Wait, bag drop? You got it. Security at the Maosoleum was tight, and cameras are strictly forbidden (Wikipedia has a theory about that here). After the bag drop, you also have to go through a metal detector. Word has it that there have been a couple of attempts on Mao's body, including a rock tossed at the coffin.
So line for the bag drop, bag drop, line for the scanner, scan, line for the museum. During this time, some people popped out of line to buy flowers to set in front of the statue in the Maosoleum - if I recall correctly, they were yellow roses. While checking for the type of flowers on the internet, I ran across suggestions that they may be artificial flowers, and that when they're collected from in front of the statue, they're taken back out front and sold again. This strikes me as frankly kind of genius.
You go in, shuffling quietly in line, past a big carved quote by Mao on the main wall and a statue of Mao where the flower-purchasers step out of line and set the flowers out, often with a respectful bow. Then, you have a quiet, dark room with multiple layers of dense glass walls, and behind those walls is a coffin with a glass top, and in there is Chairman Mao. I wish I could say that my first reaction was something profound and reflective of Mao's significant role in world history and the shaping of a nation, but it actually was "Wow, Shasha was right. He is bright orange." For real. If you ever go, you'll feel the same way.
But then I did get a grip and have some profound thoughts, which unfortunately I can't remember four weeks later, and then we popped out the other side. Some people online complain at the speed with which you have to move through (there is even a rumor, at the same link as above, that it's actually a fake body in the coffin and they hustle you through so you can't tell) but I didn't mind the pace because there's not that much to see. There are, however, plenty of things to buy at the exit, ranging from cigarette lighters to giant desk trophies, which kind of takes away from the solemnity of the site. Still, overall, I recommend it.
Finally, this one goes out to YPMB readers:
"Another! Chinese Communist Party! First down! What?"