Body politics: The preserved corpses of famous people3,839 views
BEIJING: The embalmed body of Mao Zedong lies at the symbolic centre of the Chinese Communist Party, an object of veneration for loyal cadres, and of fascination for foreign tourists.
As China marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the Great Helmsman, here are some of the world’s most famous preserved cadavers. Say “Ancient Egypt” to any schoolchild and the first thing they’ll think of is the mummies — preserved remains of important figures.
The British Museum in London houses a collection of 120 human mummies from Egypt and Sudan, which count as one of its biggest draws for thousands of visitors. The collection includes “Tayesmutengebtiu”, or “Tamut”, a high-ranking priest’s daughter who lived around 900 BC, and “Tjayasetimu”, a child temple singer whose mummy dates to about 800 BC.
The museum also has 300 mummified animals, including dogs, cats and even a crocodile. None of the mummies has been unwrapped since the 1790s and museum experts have used x-rays and CT scans to carry out their research The Dani people in the highlands of Indonesia’s remote, easternmost region of Papua used smoke and animal oil to preserve important elders and local heroes.
The desiccated, blackened figure of Agat Mamete Mabel, a chieftain who ruled over Wogi village some 250 years ago is one of the most notable — decorated with pig tusks slung around the torso, a feathered headpiece, and a traditional penis gourd. The corpse is kept in a thatch-roofed hut, where it is tended by a select few villagers.
Lenin died in 1924 aged 53, and had wanted to be buried with his mother in the former imperial capital of Saint Petersburg, but was instead preserved to lie in Red Square. Debates on whether to remove the body started after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and increasing numbers of Russians are calling for him to be laid to rest.
Russia’s Communist party has vehemently lobbied to keep Lenin in situ while the Kremlin has shown it is in no hurry to settle the debate. Eva Peron, Argentina’s emblematic first lady of the 1940s and 50s, was embalmed when she died of cancer in 1952 at age 33. “Evita” was as adored by her husband’s poor and working-class base as she was reviled by the military and elite.
After Juan Peron was toppled in a 1955 coup, army officers secretly removed Evita’s corpse from its resting place at a pro-Peron trade union headquarters and hid it. Worried Peronist militants would find it, then-dictator Pedro Aramburu had the body taken to Italy and buried in Milan under a false name.
Peron’s third wife and successor, Isabel, finally struck a deal: Evita’s body was returned to Argentina in 1974 and she has rested ever since in her family mausoleum in Buenos Aires, a place of pilgrimage for her admirers and fans of the musical and movie about her life.
Although he wanted his ashes to be scattered over the country, the father of modern Vietnam was embalmed upon his death on September 2, 1969. His body, preserved in the cold under a glass sarcophagus, has been on show since 1975 in a mausoleum dedicated to him in Hanoi.
The country has regularly called in help from Moscow in preserving the body, reflecting Soviet-era ties. The Chinese revolutionary leader, who died on September 9, 1976, has been embalmed and on show since 1977 in a glass cubicle in the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Ferdinand Marcos, Philippine president for 20 years, died aged 72 in US exile in 1989, three years after he and his family fled the presidential palace in a bloodless “People Power” revolt against corruption and human rights abuses. With periodic chemical injections to preserve it, the Marcos corpse was flown to his northern home town of Batac in 1993 to be placed in a mausoleum on public display.
Nearly three decades after his death, the corpse is both a tourist draw and political football, with the mausoleum-museum closed last month until further notice. That was soon after new President Rodrigo Duterte granted the family’s longstanding demand that Marcos be interred at Manila’s National Heroes’ Cemetery.
The Supreme Court blocked government preparations to hear petitions by human rights victims seeking to have the burial declared illegal. The bodies of North Korea’s founding president Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il are on permanent display at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun mausoleum in Pyongyang.
When Kim Il-Sung died of a heart attack in 1994, Russian scientists helped preserve the body of North Korea’s “eternal president”, who now lies in a glass coffin with filtered lights to keep his face looking rosy. The Russian team assisted with the embalming of Kim Jong-Il’s body when he passed away in December 2011 — also from a heart attack — and is believed to be in charge of the maintenance of the bodies.
Present-day leader Kim Jong-Un and his close aides visit the mausoleum on key national holidays — such as Kim Il-Sung’s birthday — to pay respects to his late grandfather and father. Foreign visitors are allowed in the cavernous mausoleum twice a week — Thursdays and Sundays — but must dress according to a strict code and must bow before the bodies.