As we pass Mao’s bier I think, “So, this was God.” I try to focus on his face, and I get a vague sense of something shiny and smooth. But it’s hard to form a conclusive impression because the line doesn’t stop; the guards make sure of that. They nudge us along gently but insistently, as if we were children needing mild supervision.
The situation soon becomes awkward because as you move, you want to keep looking but without giving the impression of gawking. I sense that for some people around me this is a large and solemn moment, a thrill, a goal reached.
I could be wrong. Maybe the mausoleum is just a de rigueur modern tourist stop, like the Statue of Liberty. If you’re Chinese, you haven’t been to Beijing till you’ve seen it. But the people who offer flowers suggest a different attitude, a reverence paid to a past. And maybe there are other people like me, mesmerized by the machinery of fate. The Warhol of the race riots and electric chair would have understand that.