Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Coordinates: 39°54′04″N 116°23′29″E / 39.9010°N 116.3915°E / 39.9010; 116.3915

The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (simplified Chinese: 毛主席纪念堂; traditional Chinese: 毛主席紀念堂; pinyin: Máo Zhǔxí Jìniàntáng), commonly known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, or the Mao Mausoleum, is the final 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 in 1976.

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 line up for hundreds of feet (dozens of meters) every day to see the former chairman, many paying tribute to him with flowers which 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 on (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 project, has his handwriting on the mausoleum's sign.

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. It was closed for renovations for 9 months and reopened on September 20, 1977.

Crystal coffin

Although the embalming of the body was solved by learning the Soviet trade from Vietnam, displaying the body proved a more difficult problem to solve during this era of Soviet-Chinese tensions. Because the crystal coffin for Hồ Chí Minh was provided directly by the USSR, Vietnam could not pass on the necessary expertise to China. 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 attempted solution for the display of Mao's body was to use the crystal coffin the USSR had provided for Sun Yat-sen, who died in 1925. This proved unfeasible, however, because the length of the coffin (1.75 metres (5 ft 9 in)) was not sufficient for Mao's 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) height. Furthermore, as the Soviets had made only the cover out of crystal, with the sides and the bottom made of steel with nickel plating, visitors would have been forced to look down at Mao’s body in a way that was deemed unacceptable by the authorities.

Main Contractor

Projects to develop an indigenous crystal coffin 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 military applications, the name of the factory was changed to 608th Factory for security reasons. In 1976, the factory was one of the few in China equipped with advanced imported equipment and a mainframe computer. Mao's spectacles and magnifying glasses were made in this factory, under the plant manager, Mr. Cai Dengyuan (蔡登元), who was a famous optometrist/optician before becoming the plant manager. The communist party secretary of the plant was Mr. Wang Zhuqian (王著谦). 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 to them by the Chinese embassy in Moscow. Just two days after receiving the fax, the design was completed, and a 1:4 scaled mock-up made of plastic was built soon after.

Material and technical challenges

Quartz glass is a vital material for the production of crystal coffins, but the raw material - quartz crystals - were rare in China. Furthermore, less than 10% of the total available quartz met the requirements to manufacture quartz glass. The largest piece found in China was no larger than 40 cm (16 in), and there was no good grade crystal in the world of the required size: 2 metres (6.6 ft).

Compounding the material shortage, there was no equipment in China large enough to handle the size of the required material. The largest piece China was equipped to handle was only 0.5 metres (1.6 ft) 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 the 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. Xu Zhaocai (徐兆采), a senior technician of the 605th Factory, developed a new technique of processing that solved this problem by welding 20 square centimeter pieces into the larger 2 square meters plate. The melting point was over 2,000 °C (3,630 °F), and a senior technician, Shi Weicheng (石维成) was assigned the task of welding with a hydrogen-oxygen flame gun. During the welding process, the metallic protective gear worn by Shi Weicheng (石维成) began to smoke due to the high temperature, and he had to stand in a specially designed pool while other workers poured water on him to cool him down; when he was finished, the water level reached his ankles.

Processing the crystal plate

The 100 mm (3.9 in) crystal plates needed to be ground down to 45 mm (1.8 in) in order to be built into the crystal coffin, and China had no technology to do so. The 608th factory staff finally found equipment large enough for the task in the Beijing First Machine Tool Factory: a single West German 2 metres (6.6 ft) precision grinding machine and eight planer-type milling machines. The equipment did not exactly meet the requirements, so the teams of both factories sacrificed other production to join forces and modify the equipment to fit the exact need of the political task.


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

Beijing Medical University (now merged into Beijing University) provided a ten-year old specimen head 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 a living person instead of the original gray, and the appearance of wrinkles was significantly reduced. After evaluating numerous designs, it was decided to adopt illumination via xenon lamps installed inside the coffin. The xenon lamps were from a brand new design that adopted fiber-optic technology, could not be seen by visitors when viewing Mao's body, and would continue to provide the correct illumination if one of the lamps was extinguished. The xenon illumination system inside the crystal coffin was designed by Cai Zuquan (蔡祖泉).

Shape of the coffin

In order to eliminate reflections, as well as obtaining the greatest strength, the crystal plates had to be connected at precise angles. Optical engineer Wang Daheng(王大珩) was enlisted to help and after numerous calculations the best angles were obtained. It was discovered that the selection of the angles was so precise that even without the adhesives and other methods of connection, the plates would not collapse. The dimensional tolerance was up to 10 µm (0.00039 in).


On November 27, 1976, the crystal coffin built by the 608th factory was sent for earthquake (magnitude 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 in total. A unique design came from Sichuan: a circular shape with red carpet inside, symbolizing the red sun, the symbol of Mao during the Cultural Revolution. However, 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 (徐静), 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 previously unknown process to the public.


Mao Zedong's surviving family members always visit the mausoleum annually on Mao's birthday and the day he died. However, according to the publications of Mao's granddaughter Kong Dongmei (孔东梅, the daughter of Mao's daughter Li Min 李敏), Mao's ex-wife He Zizhen (贺子珍) was initially banned from visiting the mausoleum, for reasons never explained by the Chinese government. After more than a year of repeated appeals and after nearly two million people had already visited the mausoleum, she was finally allowed a single visit, with heavy restrictions: the visit must be made in secret and she must not cry, make any noise, nor talk to the press about the visit. She was allowed to be photographed with her ex-husband's statue in the mausoleum by Lu Xiangyou (吕相友), Mao's personal photographer since the late 1950s. Dr. Xu Jing (徐静), the author of The Place where a Great Man Rests, documented the visits of important people to the mausoleum, but his visit on September 8, 1979 was barred from the book, by order of the Chinese government, again for reasons never explained.

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