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Mausoleum of Mao Zedong


Hua Guofeng


Beijing / Peking, China




Socialist realism


According to China Pictorial, Issue 9, 1977, people throughout China designed and built the mausoleum. Material from all over China was used for the construction: granite from Sichuan Province, porcelain plates from Guangdong Province, pine trees from Yan'an, Shaanxi Province, saw-wort seeds from the Tian Shan Mountains in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, earth from the quake-stricken Tangshan, color pebbles from Nanjing, milky quartz from the Kunlun Mountains, pine logs from Jiangxi Province, and rock samples from Mount Everest. Water and sand from the Taiwan Straits were also used to symbolically emphasize the People's Republic of China's claims over Taiwan. 700,000 people from different provinces, autonomous regions, and nationalities did symbolic voluntary labour.


  Monument in front of Mao's Mausoleum on Tiananmen Square
The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, commonly known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, or the Mao Mauseleum, is the last resting place of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 and the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death.

Although Mao had wished to be cremated, his body was embalmed, and construction of a mausoleum began shortly after his death. This highly popular attraction is located in the middle of Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, the capital of China. On this site had previously stood the Gate of China, the southern (main) gate of the Imperial City during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The remains of the Great Helmsman, as he is sometimes known, are on display for public viewing. People queue up for hundreds of meters every day to see the former chairman, many paying tribute to him with flowers that can be rented at the entrance on the north side. There is a souvenir shop at the exit on the south side.


The mausoleum was built right after Mao's death (September 9, 1976). The groundbreaking ceremony took place November 24, 1976, and the mausoleum was completed on May 24, 1977. Hua Guofeng, who supervised the mausoleum's project, has his handwriting on the mausoleum's sign.

At Mao's death, China did not have the embalming technologies needed to preserve Mao's body for the public display and such display had clearly violated Mao's will, who wished to be cremated. Decisions were made against Mao's wishes to preserve his body in the mausoleum and since it was impossible for China to obtain the necessary technologies from the former-USSR, China asked help from Vietnam, which learned the trade from the former-USSR when Ho Chi Minh's body was preserved in his mausoleum for public display against his death wish. Appreciating the Chinese support during the Vietnam War, Vietnam taught the Chinese everything they learned from the former-USSR. However, the effectiveness of such practice is subject to debate because there is significant controversy over whether the body is real, as visitors have noted the exceedingly waxy appearance of the corpse, as well as the speed in which visitors are ushered through the room. Also, the body is on display at most a few hours each day, and often not at all, fueling speculation that if the body is real, it is decaying rapidly.

Crystal Coffin
Although the embalming of the body was solved by learning the Soviet trade from Vietnam, there was a much bigger problem of displaying the body, because Vietnam did not know the trade, and the crystal coffin for Ho Chi Minh was directly provided by the former-USSR. As a result, China was forced to develop the know-how indigenously. This proved to be a much greater task with huge difficulties.

Original Soviet Crystal Coffin
The first attempt to display Mao's body was to use the crystal coffin the former-USSR provided for Sun Yat-sen who passed away in 1925. However, this was not feasible, because the crystal coffin was only 1.75 metre in length, but Mao was a tall man, with a height of around 1.8 metre. Furthermore, the Soviets had only made the cover out of crystal, while the sides and the bottom were made of steel with nickle plating. Thus, it was deemed unacceptable because visitors would look down at Mao's body.

Main Contractor
Tasks to develop indigenous crystal coffins were distributed to enterprises all over China in code names, and the one named "Task # 1" was assigned to the 608th Factory. The 608th factory was originally the 2nd Spectacles Factory, and was famed for its good quality products. For example, in 1963, merchants in Hong Kong placed an order of 6,000 pairs of lenses, the largest single foreign order China received at the time, and later, the camera lenses it produced were exported to East German Zeiss firm. Once its products were used for the military applications, the name of the factory was changed to 608th Factory from its original name for security reasons. In 1976, the factory was one of the few with advanced imported equipment and a mainframe computer (which was the size of approximately four dressers, yet it was less powerful than the Pentium 4 desktop today). Mao's spectacles and magnifying glasses were made in this factory, under the plant manager, Mr. Cai Dengyuan, who was a famous optometrist/optician before becoming the plant manager. The communist party secretary of the plant was Mr. Wang Zhuqian . The design was a political task and started immediately after the order was received, even before the design team had an opportunity to inspect the Soviet crystal coffin delivered to China in 1925 for Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The only reference the team had was the photo of the crystal coffin of Lenin faxed by the Chinese embassy, and merely two days after receiving the fax, the design was completed, and a 1:4 scaled mock-up made of plastic was built soon after.

Crystal Shortage
Quartz glass is the necessary material needed for crystal coffin, but the natural crystal, the raw material for quartz glass was rare in China, and furthermore, crystal that qualified to be used for the quartz glass was even fewer, less than 10% of the total available quartz. The largest piece found in China was no larger than 40 cm, and there was no good grade crystal in world with the required size: 2 metres.

Technical Challenges
Compounding the material shortage, there was a technical difficulty as well: there was no equipment in China that was large enough to handle the size of the required material: 2 metres. In fact, there was no such equipment of this kind in the world (and is still nonexistant today), and the largest piece China was equipped to handle was only the size of 0.5 metre or less.

Overcoming the Difficulties
The subcontractors to produce the quartz powder for the quartz glass surfaces of the crystal coffin were numerous, including the 603rd factory, the 605th factory, and the Beijing General Glass Factory. The crystal used was from East China Sea, solving the raw material shortage problem, but there was a new problem: after the annealing, it would take three years for the internal stress of the large piece of quartz glass to disappear, but under the political climate of China in 1976, it was obvious impossible to wait that long. Mr. Xu Zhaocai (???), a senior technician of the 605th Factory developed a new technique of processing that solved this problem by welding 20 square centimeters pieces into the larger 2 square meters plate. The melting point was over 2000 degrees Celsius, and a senior technician, Mr. Shi Weicheng (???) was assigned the task of welding with hydrogen-oxygen flame gun. During the welding process, the metallic protective gear worn by Mr. Shi Weicheng (???) was smoking due to the high temperature, so he had to stand in a specially designed pool while other workers poured water on him to cool him down, and when he was finished, the water level reached his ankles. The resulting purity reached 99.9999%, a world record remained unbroken today.

Processing the Crystal Plate
The 100 mm crystal plates needed to be ground down to 45 mm in order to be built into the crystal coffin, and China had no technology to do so. The 608th factory staff finally found the equipment large enough in Beijing First Machine Tool Factory: a single unit of West German 2 metre precision grinding machine and eight planer-type milling machine. The equipment did not exactly meet the requirements, so the teams of both factories joined forces to modify the equipment to fit the exact need of the political task, at the sacrifice of production. During the time, Beijing was frequently struck with aftershocks of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, and during these aftershocks, workers would always immedately stop the machine and threw themselves on top of the plates, using their own bodies to shield the plates from falling debris.

While overcoming the problems of processing the crystal into the quartz plates, illumination issue was being worked on simultaneously, lead by project manager Mr. Ren Fuguang (???), the head of the optical research and design department, with the optical engineer Mr. Li Jiaying (???) as the chief designer.

Beijing Medical University (now merged into Beijing University) provided a ten-year old head specimen for the project, and after harmonizing colors by varying the colors, angles, and intensity of the illumination, the skin color appeared to be closer to that of living person instead of the original grey, and the wrinkles were significantly reduced. After evaluating numerous designs, it was decided to adopt illumination via xenon lamps installed inside the coffin. The xenon lamps inside the coffin were from a brand new design that adopted fiber-optic technology and could not be seen by visitors when viewing Mao's body, and in case a lamp is out, the overall appearance of Mao would not be altered. The xenon illumination system inside the crystal coffin was designed by Mr. Cai Zuquan (???).

Shape of the Coffin
In order to elimate the reflection of the image, as well as obtaining the strongest strength, the crystal plates must be connected in certain angles. Optical engineer Mr. Wang Daheng (???) was enlisted to help and after numerous times of calculation, the best angles were obtained. It was discovered the selection of the angles was so great that even without the adhesives and other methods of connection, the plates would not collapse. The dimensional tolerance was up to 10 micrometres.

On November 27, 1976,the crystal coffin built by the 608th factory was sent for earthquake (magintude 8.0), vibration, temperature, and other environmental tests. Nearly two dozen crystal coffins from all over China were also there for the competition, and Shanghai had six total. The unique one was the one from Sichuan, which was in circular shape with red carpet inside, symbolizing the red sun, the symbol of Mao during the Cultural Revolution. The crystal coffin built by the 608th factory defeated its competitors and was selected on the spot.

The building of the crystal coffin for Mao was a closely guarded secret until recently, and Dr. Xu Jing (??), who participated in the design and later headed the managerial bureau of Mao Zedong's Mausoleum before his retirement, wrote a book titled The Place where a Great Man Rests after the declassification to finally reveal the process previously unknown to the public.

After the reform started in 1979 in China, however, it was revealed that the symbolic voluntary labor was a complete waste of time and other resources, because the significant majority of the voluntary work performed was nothing other than a political propaganda showpiece: the so-called 'volunteers' would come to the construction site to form a human chain and pass the bricks from one end to the other, and the next day, a different group of the so-called 'volunteers' would repeat the task, except the bricks were passed back to the original spot. Actual work that would really help the construction was never done. As a result, the construction of the mausoleum of Mao cost (measured in 1977 prices) ten times more than that of the Great Hall of the People (measured in 1959 prices). This waste of resources was used by the reformers within the communist party to criticize Hua Guofeng and his followers, but once the reformers had consolidated their power after Hua Guofeng was removed, further discussion on this sensitive topic was banned.

Vandalism Attempts
Security of the mausoleum has been increased steadily since its completion due to sporadic vandalism attempts. The Chinese government admits that the guards have successfully thwarted two vandalism attempts by subduing the culprits while they were still waiting in line outside: both were carried out by a man acting alone, and both involved attempts to use explosives. In one case, the guards discovered the wooden handles of the hand grenades protruding outside the culprit's pockets, while in the other, the guards discovered the unusually bulging pockets of the culprit contained dynamite.[citation needed]

According to the Chinese democracy movement, there was at least one attempt which successfully reached inside the mausoleum: in the 1990's, an unemployed female textile worker from Xinyang managed to slip inside and attempted to use a metal weight to crack the crystal casket of Mao, but she was quickly apprehended.

The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall Successfully Completed (Issue 9, 1977). China Pictorial, pg. 4-12.