When Mao Zedong died on 9 September 1976, the country was in shock. This was partly the result of the keenly felt loss of a semi-divine leader, but also caused by the enormous uncertainty about what the future held in stock for China and its people. The power struggle between Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four on the one hand, and Mao's designated successor Hua Guofeng on the other, which had been smoldering for some time, was about to be fought out in public. Some of this uncertainty is visible in the tenseness of the faces of the persons in the poster above.
However, on 6 October 1976, within a month after Mao's death, Hua had the Gang of Four arrested. This bold move was supported by various old Party cadres and Army men, including Ye Jianying, Li Xiannian, Xu Xiangqian and Nie Rongzhen.
Two days after the arrest of the Gang, the highest organs of the party and the state decided that a Memorial Hall would be built as a permanent tribute to the founder of the People's Republic. On 24 November 1976, the foundation stone for the gigantic building, located to the south of the Monument to the People's Heroes on Tiananmen Square (天安门广场), was put in place. Both Hua and Ye, the strong men of the immediate post-Mao era, were prominently present at the ceremony.
The construction went on day and night, and the building was finished on 29 August 1977. On that same day, Mao's body, which had been embalmed and placed in a crystal sarcophagus, was moved to the Hall. On 9 September 1977, a ceremony was held to commemorate the anniversary of Mao's death and the completion of the Hall.
In December 1983, four memorial rooms were added to the Memorial Hall, which serve as reception rooms for important guests. Aside from the one to the left of the entrance hall, which is dedicated to Mao, the others are dedicated to his former colleagues of the First Generation of leaders, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi and Zhu De. For many artists and designers, contributing works to the Hall is seen as a mark of distinction, proof of them being in tune with the national mood. One of these contributing artists is Liu Yuyi, known for his huge canvasses that commemorate landmarks in recent Chinese (and world) history.
Although the Hall is open to the general public, it tends to be closed for maintenance purposes for extended periods of time. For precisely these reasons, the Hall was closed in the Summer of 2007 in preparation for the Olympic Games of 2008. It is unclear whether this maintenance was needed for the upkeep of the building, or for Mao's remains. Nonetheless, the Hall still draws large crowds of visitors, many of whom lay flowers at the foot of a marble statue of a sitting Mao, located in the northern entrance hall.
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