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Lenin’s embalming process, still seen to this day as one of the finest examples of its kind, was presented to the world as a feat for Soviet science in its quest to preserve a body in such perfection.
But the idea was probably forced upon government officials, who may have feared another bloody revolution after they saw the huge crowds that showed up to say goodbye to Lenin.
Well over 500,000 people braved the biting winter cold just to catch a glimpse of the body.
Permanently staving off decomposition is no easy job.
When Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong died in 1976, the Chinese medical specialists tasked with preserving his corpse for permanent display were at a loss. In the middle of a rift with the Soviet Union, they couldn’t ask the Russians for the formula used on Lenin, according to a memoir by Mao’s doctor. Vietnam, which had embalmed Ho Chi Minh, rebuffed them, too, the doctor wrote.
In the end, the Chinese doctors used a formula found in a Western journal in a medical library in Beijing. They added extra doses of formaldehyde to boost the preservative effect.
"The results were shocking. Mao’s face was round as a ball, and his neck was now the width of his head," Li Zhisui wrote in "The Private Life of Chairman Mao," published outside China 18 years after Mao’s death.
The team managed to restore Mao to a more normal appearance with hours of careful massage and makeup, he said, but, just in case, a wax copy of the body was readied as a stand-in.
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