Vietnam has appointed a special team of embalming specialists, including four Russian scientists from Moscow’s Lenin Lab, to preserve the corpse of independence hero Ho Chi Minh.
The 1969 decision to embalm Ho contravened his express wishes to be cremated and for his ashes to be spread in several regions of Vietnam.
The special council, including the Russian specialists, will assess the condition of Ho’s body, which was first embalmed in 1969 with work due to next month.
“The council is tasked with proposing plans and scientific measures to preserve and protect the absolute safety of Chairman Ho Chi Minh’s body for the long term,” the Hanoi government said, in apparent acknowledgement that the current techniques are failing to work.
After the death of Lenin in 1924, two Russian chemists, Vladimir Vorobyov and Boris Zbarsky, found a chemical solution to solution.
The Soviets were secretive about the process. “Junior specialists, like I was at the time, weren’t told any of the specifics,” an embalmer who worked on Ho for a decade reportedly told the Moscow Times.
Soviet embalmers preserved Lenin in 1924, Bulgarian communist leader Giorgi Dimitrov (1949), Josef Stalin (1953) and North Korea’s Kim Il Sung (1994) and Kim Jong Il (2011).
Almost all the embalmed leaders had asked not to be preserved for public view but the authorities decided it was useful to preserve their legacy.
Preserved bodies require regular upkeep and occasional re-embalming.
Ho is kept in a large Soviet-built mausoleum in Hanoi, on display within a glass coffin in a dark interior, attracting numerous tourists.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un placed a wreath at the mausoleum in March after his summit with Donald Trump ended unsuccessfully.
When Ho died in September 1969, the Hanoi authorities asked the Lenin Lab – a group of hundreds of specialists in its heyday – to preserve the corpse.
Soviet experts embalmed Ho’s body at a top-secret temporary underground burial chamber in the jungles north of the capital. The government believed the US forces wanted to seize the corpse to force North Vietnam to release US prisoners of war.
The communist authorities then moved the body to a huge cave on the Red River with air conditioners, electricity and a laboratory where Russian scientists completed the embalming process.
In 1975, after the war, the Hanoi mausoleum was opened.
After the Soviet Union broke up, Vietnamese scientists reportedly tried to learn Russia’s embalming technique and sent a team to study in Moscow. They allegedly inspected the chemicals left behind after Ho’s re-embalming sessions for clues about the process.
In 1991, post-communist Russia began to charge Vietnam for the chemical mixture to preserve the war hero’s corpse.
In 2003, Vietnam asked Russia if it could produce the chemical cocktail and Vietnamese scientists have since mastered the art of mummification. But Russian experts are still regularly called upon to carry out annual maintenance of the body.
Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in Hanoi. Picture credit: Wikimedia