China Wants to List Mao Zedong Mausoleum as World Heritage Site

china-mao-mausoleum.jpg Police officers walk their dogs during a break from duty in front of the Mausoleum for late Chinese leader Mao Zedong in Beijing, March 9, 2016.
AP Photo

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has made repeated applications to the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO to have the Mao Zedong mausoleum listed as a World Heritage Site, Beijing media reported.

The government will apply to have 14 structures listed on the organization’s register of World Heritage sites including the Stalinist-style building that houses the remains of the late Chairman, the Beijing News reported.

The paper quoted Shu Xiaofeng, director of the Beijing municipal government’s bureau of cultural relics, as saying that the city government hopes to have the buildings and structures in downtown Beijing meet the requirements by 2035.

As well as the mausoleum, the government also wants to list Tiananmen Square and the Monument to the People's Heroes with UNESCO.

However, a number of heritage sites from imperial times are also on Beijing’s wish list, including the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, Taimiao Temple and the Drum Tower.

Beijing rights activist Hu Jia said that the Monument to the People's Heroes and Tiananmen Square aren’t suitable for inclusion in the World Heritage List, however, because of their strong political associations.

"Mao Zedong in particular should be recognized around the world as one of the three tyrants of the 20th century, alongside Stalin and Hitler,” Hu told RFA. “The number of premature deaths in three years under Mao exceeded the death toll caused by Japan’s invasion of China over a period of more than 10 years.”

“I think that it’s very strange to include political sites [in this application],” Hu said. “If the Mao Zedong mausoleum really is listed as a world cultural heritage site, we will be living in a very strange world."

Beijing has also outlined plans to “reduce the population density” of the central area where its key sites are grouped, through financial compensation, re-allocation to “affordable housing,” and other forms of relocation of residents.

Beijing has already launched an unprecedented program to clear out migrant workers, who the authorities term the “low-end population,” from the capital.

In a report to the municipal People's Congress earlier this year, acting Beijing mayor Chen Jinning said the authorities cleared some 40 million square meters (430,556,415 square feet) of "illegal constructions" from the city last year, and will continue forced evictions of thousands of migrant workers from out of town.

Chen cited "coordinated growth" in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei urban area, as well as the city's hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics as the main motivation for the policy, which includes capping Beijing's resident population at 23 million by 2020.

Bitter irony

Xia Ming, a professor of political science at the City University of New York, said there is a bitter irony, given the amount of cultural relics destroyed during the political violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), at Mao’s behest.

“So, are the crimes committed by Mao Zedong less historically important than those of anyone else?” he said. “Is the body of Mao Zedong the common cultural property of mankind?”

Xia called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership, whose headquarters are in the Zhongnanhai imperial palace, to move out of their heritage site instead.

"Zhongnanhai is actually originally part of the Forbidden City. It is the back garden,” Xia said.

“First, the Chinese Communist Party had to install heating to stay warm in winter, then air conditioning to stay cool in summer. Now it’s all computers.”

“They have had to drill tunnels and through walls to install the network, then they have more and more secretaries and other teams, so they have built various concrete blocks in Zhongnanhai to accommodate their growing needs,” Xia said.

“So actually the Communist Party is itself destroying the harmony of the … entire Forbidden City and the cultural heritage of the whole of central Beijing,” he said.

UNESCO requirements

A staff member who answered the phone at the UNESCO Media Office in Paris on Thursday declined to comment on the report.

They did confirm, however, that Fanjing Mountain in the southwestern province of Guizhou was recently included in the World Heritage List.

But the staff member, who asked not to be named, said that it is theoretically possible for political monuments to be included.

“Political significance does not affect whether a site is included in the World Heritage List,” the employee said. “These standards have to do with human creativity, artistic value, cultural traditions, and so on. These standards are not political."

Typically, sites must be “masterpieces representing human creativity,” have existed for “a considerable period of time or within a certain cultural region,” be testimony to a cultural tradition or have had a “major impact.”

Sites may also be “directly related to events, thoughts, beliefs, art or literary works of great significance,” according to detailed information emailed by UNESCO to RFA.

Historical archives on the Nanjing massacre of Chinese civilians by Japanese troops during World War II and the widespread forcing of "comfort women" into prostitution were admitted to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register last year.

In response, Japan withheld its 2016 funding for UNESCO, which set up the program in 1992 to protect important historical documents and materials.

Reported by Lin Ping for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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