There is no refrigerated crypt
ON A visit to Beijing a few years ago, my tourist self couldn’t help but pay a visit to the colossal edifice that stands in the middle of Tiananmen Square. Part of the curiosity was just bandwagon lure—one sees a long queue gathering each morning outside the imposing colonnaded building known as the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, more commonly known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and feels the urge to join it.
When Mao died in 1976, other prominent leaders of the communist world who died before him had been embalmed and their bodies were put on public display inside mausoleums that became tourist attractions—Lenin’s in Moscow, and the mausoleum that it inspired for Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, who died in 1969.
A long queue on Tiananmen Square is not to be underestimated. Tiananmen Square is one of the world’s top 10 city squares. A snaking line of people in a vast square that measures 44 hectares makes one wonder what it is that makes these tourists—mostly mainland Chinese—take pains just to behold the embalmed body of their departed leader.
To accommodate the great throng of people each day, Red Guards bark out orders to make sure the line moves fast. Instructions are given—no cameras are allowed, silence in the inner sanctum of the huge mausoleum. The rapid pace actually makes the visit uneventful: Mao lying in a glass coffin, his body draped in the red flag of the People’s Republic of China, and before you know it, the visit is over.
Outside, one encounters a line of stalls vending all sorts of souvenirs—from tacky miniature replicas of Mao in his glass coffin, to copies of the ubiquitous “Red Book.”
It has been said that the communist Chinese were faced with boggling complexities when they decided to preserve the corpse of Chairman Mao. At the time of his death, long-term embalming was a craft perfected only by the Soviets; it involved a tedious process that required them to soak the body in a special solution at regular intervals—which they did with Lenin’s remains—at which time the mausoleum would be closed to the public.
But there was one particular problem. A glass coffin that could withstand earthquakes, let alone solve the problem of humidity, was needed. Because Beijing then was not in friendly terms with its Soviet neighbor, China turned to Vietnam. It was Vietnam who taught them the long-term embalming process, which the Vietnamese learned from the Soviets and had also perfected and applied to preserve the body of Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader who founded the League for the Independence of Vietnam in 1941 and later established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Visiting Mao’s tomb, one is given the quick explanation that at the start of each day, Mao’s coffin is raised from the basement of the building by means of special hydraulic lifts. There in that basement, Mao lies still each night in a refrigerated crypt that helps preserve his eternally embalmed body. The Chinese had, since then, perfected the same art that the Soviets and the Vietnamese had perfected before them.
One can never know what secret lies in the embalming solutions being applied to Mao’s corpse. But part of it is a refrigerated crypt in a basement inside the imposing edifice that faces the gates of the Forbidden City.
And there goes again that word, “refrigerated crypt”—a term we often encounter in Philippine media reports or commentaries, referring to the Marcos mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte.
The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as a “refrigerated crypt” in Batac. And there is no eternally embalmed body. The body one sees inside that mausoleum is that of a wax model. I had written before in this space that a close Marcos family friend once intimated to me during a visit to the Marcos tomb that the real Marcos corpse had already been buried underneath that catafalque that bears Marcos the Wax.
Not one of the Marcos family has come out to dispute that. If they do, it will eventually demolish the long-held narrative that Ferdinand Marcos remains unburied because all these years the state has refused him burial. That wax replica—we can very well understand—is part of an “Imeldific” script to put pressure on government (by picturing it as insensitive and heartless) and to draw out the public’s tears for a “pitiful” Marcos, helped no less by the face of Imelda contorted as the quintessential crying lady.
With all their flaunted ill-gotten wealth, it will take millions of low-value peso to maintain the long-term embalming of Marcos’ remains. One sees none of the features in the Mao mausoleum inside the Marcos tomb. And the glass coffin is anything but special—it is just a rectangular glass case that one can readily order in the glass shops in Quiapo. And there is no hydraulic lift to lower and raise that coffin to a refrigerated crypt in a basement mortuary.
Marcos the Corpse has already been buried. He now lies still—pun intended. He needs a burial no more. It is just all necropolitics.
It is time we disabused ourselves of the canard that the body one sees in Batac is that of Marcos.
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