Chinese Funeral Culture and Customs
The Chinese funeral culture and customs can be summarized by a Wen Tianxiang’s, Chinese patriot and scholar, quote ”ince the dawn of time every one will die, let the history books note my death with loyalty at heart.” He echoes the honor the Chinese people’s culture expects of them in life and death. Cause of death, age, marital status, sex and position one holds in society are the main determinants on the kind of burial rites one deserves (Ministry of Culture, P.R. China, 2003).
Death is treated as a communal affair, and due to the long history of the Chinese and contact with other cultures, although rites vary from part to part, the major rituals are almost similar. Due to the costs of the rites, people contribute sums which are noted in a ledger. This money goes to offset the bills incurred in funeral preparations by the family, of which the first born son plays a major role. The ledger is kept as a reference to who actually came and contributed what. It is the deceased’s kin’s prerogative to ensure that they contribute to the families that aided them while they were mourning (Leclair, 8).
Death is more than the actual passing of the soul to the other world. The coffin is placed near the death bed of the deceased, and food is placed near it as an assurance that he will be taken care of when he is long dead. If given proper and expensive burial rites, the deceased is believed to be more watchful and benevolent on the family he leaves behind, especially if buried near his ancestral lands. This explains the Chinese culture of shipping their dead back to their motherland, or their coffins (Wilson 115.).
If the body is to cross a river on the way to burial, the deceased is usually dressed alike as he wore in life.
The elaborate rituals dictate what one should wear while mourning. One should not wear red garments -red signifies celebration among the Chinese, and the dead should not be dressed in red, lest the dead turn into ghosts. If one has died outside their homes, they are not brought into the house. Instead, a pyre is built on the courtyard with the head of the deceased facing the door of his house. If he died in the house the head is placed facing the doorway. Children are buried quietly without ceremony as it is not in the Chinese culture for elders to show respect to their juniors.
Before being buried, paper Jasmine, Gold and silver is used to fill the coffin as thanks to the Lord in Chinese customary beliefs. Younger members use burn paper silver during the burial, which is a means of sending the deceased to the other world with money to use there. Basically, mourning lasts for three days and when the coffin is sealed, all people turn away to evade bad spirits. Then the body is carried to the burial grounds head first, and the higher the burial ground, which is usually on the hills, the better position the deceased will occupy in the next world.
Although mourning lasts for a hundred days after the death of the deceased, his life is said to return to his household seven days after death, and a red plaque is usually placed outside the house to ensure the soul does not lose its way on its return journey. Death to the Chinese is intricately connected with life, maybe one and the same thing as Lao Tzu said that Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides (Funeral ceremonies, burial, mourning and the return of the deceased, n.d).