Chairman Mao Memorial Hall

Top choice mausoleum in Forbidden City & Dongcheng Central
Image by gianliguori / Getty Images

One of Beijing's more surreal spectacles is the sight of Mao Zedong's embalmed corpse on public display within his mausoleum. The Soviet-inspired memorial hall was constructed just 10 months after Mao died in September 1976, and is a prominent landmark in the middle of Tian'anmen Sq. The Chairman is still revered across much of China, as evidenced by the snaking queues here; the occasional local tourist may be solemn-faced but many are in high spirits, treating it like any other stop on their Beijing tour.

Mao's body lies in a crystal cabinet, draped in a red flag emblazoned with hammer and sickle, as guards in white gloves impatiently wave visitors on towards further rooms where a riot of Mao kitsch – lighters, bracelets, statues, key rings, bottle openers, you name it – ensues. Directly outside the mausoleum are some stirring socialist-realism war memorials that make for good photo ops.

Mao is one of a pantheon of world communist/cult-of-personality leaders to be embalmed, along with Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and North Korea's Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il, who are also on public display in their respective countries.

Before you join the queue, all bags and cameras need to be deposited at the signposted storage area beside the National Museum of China east of the square; collect them before 2pm. And don’t forget your passport – you won’t be let into the hall without it. Although the queues may seem impossibly long, they are constantly moving (visitors aren't allowed to stop inside the hall).

Be aware that opening hours can vary; occasionally it can open later at 9am or close earlier at 11am.