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'Great Helmsman' Is Capital's No. 1 Tourist Attraction : Every Year, Mao's Tomb Draws Millions to Beijing

December 26, 1987|TERRIL JONES | Associated Press Writer

BEIJING — Although Chairman Mao Tse-tung is less revered than in his lifetime, about 30,000 people a day are drawn to his tomb 11 years after his death. They shuffle along quickly in a line for a brief glimpse of his embalmed body under a red flag in a crystal sarcophagus.

The mausoleum of the "Great Helmsman" who brought a Communist government to power in 1949 is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Beijing and the majority who come are from outside the capital.

For many the visit is not so much to honor Mao as to make a pilgrimage to the city's most popular tourist spot, which is in Tian An Men Square, a major attraction in itself.

Li Wei, 22, who grows wheat in Shandong province, has been there.

A Must-See Spot

"It was moving . . . I guess," he said, reflecting mixed feelings about the visit. "It's hard to say. I don't know."

He added that it was his first visit to Beijing, and aside from Mao's tomb, he went "to see the pandas" at the zoo.

"When people come to Beijing, they have to see this," said Wu Guoping, a printer from Shanghai and another first-time visitor to Beijing. "He's the chairman, right? Chairman Mao built China, and the Chinese people will never forget him."

Mao died Sept. 9, 1976, at age 82. His mausoleum was completed six months later. He is remembered as a leader who rescued millions of Chinese from poverty.

Blamed for Catastrophes

But he is also blamed for catastrophes such as the Great Leap Forward of 1958, which tried to rush China into modern industry, and the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution that closed schools, denounced intellectuals and reviled religion and Western arts.

"There were successes and there were failures, but there were more successes," said Tong Huaxing, 32, who said he makes measuring tools in Shaanxi Province.

The Cultural Revolution "had a bad effect on schooling," he added. "We went to school, but didn't study anything. Of course, I regret it, and when I see Chairman Mao I feel somewhat (that) it's his fault, but considering his successes, we should forgive him."

Since the 10th anniversary of Mao's death, the number of visitors has increased.

Visitors Cried

"Last summer we started opening on Sundays because there were so many people," said a guide. "Every day some people pass by shedding tears."

About 10 million people visit in a year; 50,000 is the most for one day.

The visitors form a line two abreast that snakes around the side of the squat, granite structure. No parcels, cameras or tape recorders are allowed, and people don't need to be told to keep silent as they file quickly past.

Mao lies in the transparent coffin surrounded by orchids; beyond him stands a four-man honor guard and a wall with the inscription: "Long live the memory of our great leader and teacher, Chairman Mao Tse-tung."

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