The Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung wanted to be burned after his death (many wanted him burned while he was still alive) but he was far too big a personality for that.
So, like Vladimir Lenin and Ho Chi Minh he was stuffed and preserved by Xie Piao, an official who was then in charge of an experimental cooling project.
Now 75, Xie feels safe enough to start revealing what his work consisted of.
He says that nobody thought ‘The Great Helmsman’ could possibly die “so there were no preparations at all.”
Xie arrived at the Great Hall of the People to find the the body in a rough-and-ready glass and wood coffin, at room temperature beneath hot electric lights. He was under strict instructions not to freeze the corpse and initially didn’t know what to do, while 400 people recruited for the whole project awaited his orders.
He used nitrogen gas to enclose the body and cool it to 8º C which brought down the wrath of Hua Guofeng, Mao’s successor.
For seven days Xie and his team worked round the clock.
Inexperienced in embalming, Xie was forced to experiment with formaldehyde; Mao’s former doctor Li Zhisui said Mao’s head swelled “like a football”.
Mao was put on permanent display in 1977 in a monumental pillared memorial hall in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square (pictured), where he lies in a dim chamber in a grey suit, with his waxy waxy face framed by thick black hair bathed in orange light.
Picture source: Flickr