The notorious communist leaders, Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin have been famously put on display to the public since their deaths in 1976 and 1924 respectively. You may think you can wander into these memorials all willy-nilly but here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Go early.
All told the actual viewing of both Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin takes less than five minutes. Guards keep the lines moving at a steady pace and the volume of visitors means that pace is quick. Do yourself a favor and don’t waste your whole day in the massive lines that inevitably form. I’m sure both communist leaders would be flattered by your dedication, but just don’t.
Mao’s Mausoleum is open from 8:00am to 12:00pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Its closed on “special occasions” so try to do a walk by of the mausoleum prior to your initial visit to see when those occasions actually are. Tiananmen Square can only be accessed via underground tunnels to the north, south, east, and west. Each of these also contains a security checkpoint.
Lenin’s Mausoleum is open from 10:00am to 1:00pm. It is closed on Mondays and Fridays. The line forms a short distance away on the western side of the State Historical Museum.
2. Dress appropriately
You don’t need to be done up in funeral digs, but leave your Chaco sandals and cut off jean shorts in your suitcase. Generally speaking you could get by with any pants/shirt combo. At Mao’s Mausoleum there is a dress code of no open toed shoes or the seemingly Asian fashion of wearing only a vest as a top. At both locations it is expected that you remove your hat upon entering the memorials.
3. Pack light….or not at all.
As no bags are allowed in either memorial I found it best to make my visits between going to and from the hostel I stayed at. At both mausoleums you can stow your bag in onsite lockers, but that’s an extra line to stand in and extra money to spend. Items prohibited in the memorials include: handbags, backpack, any form of recording or picture taking device, food and drink.
Mao’s Mausoleum has onsite lockers located in a room just to left of the metal detectors. A guard will help you deposit belongings there.
Lenin’s Mausoleum has locker space on the western side of the State Historical Museum. Employees there will take your luggage and present you with a numbered card for pickup after viewing the memorial. Lines for pickup form to the left, lines for drop off to the right. Don’t get confused like I did.
4. Be respectful
This one kind of goes without saying but I can see how people’s political leanings or historical knowledge can make someone come out with their opinions of the two controversial leaders. Leave all that stuff at the door. Watching the reaction of locals is a great way to get cultural insight on where you are. Take this opportunity to take it all in and save those thoughts for the communal hostel kitchen.
5. Get there while you can!
While Mao’s interment seems to be permanent for the time being the fate of Lenin’s remains seems more turbulent. There has been talk within the Russian government of finally burying Lenin’s body in St. Petersburg as he had requested. Recent polls taken have revealed that the majority of Russians favor the mausoleum being dismantled and Lenin being buried. Having the opportunity to see the world famous Bolshevik may soon become a thing of the past.