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Beijing: Chairman Mao wanted to be cremated

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Beijing has revealed that Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung, whose body lies in a crystal sarcophagus in Tiananmen Square, really wanted to be cremated.

But when he died in September 1976, the ruling Politburo startled his doctors and caused immense medical problems by deciding that his body should be preserved in a mausoleum.

A candid account of these events, and of the makeshift measures adopted to put Mao on display, was published Thursday on the Web site of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

The decision to preserve Mao's body for posterity was taken by his immediate successor, Hua Guofeng, who was seeking to remold himself in Mao's image. But the decision came too late from a medical perspective, the paper says.

The vital organs should have been removed and the arteries and veins flushed out within two hours of death. Instead, Mao's body was placed in formaldehyde and other preserving fluids so it would remain in reasonable shape until the memorial service.

"This was first and foremost a political task, but it needed to be carried out by medical personnel," said Dr. Wu Jieping, head of the team set up to preserve the body, on whose memoirs the article is based. "We had to succeed: Failure was not allowed."

After a year of painstaking work, the problem was solved by a dialectical formula. Known as the "integration of dry and wet treatment," it is still used today.

The visible parts of the body are surrounded by a dry atmosphere while it is on view in its casket. But the parts covered by clothing are suffused in liquid, which the public cannot see.

At the end of each showing, the body is lowered into a container maintained at a low temperature. Once a year, the face and hands are completely moisturized.

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