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A look into Chinese Post-Death Proceedings





As sad as the topic of death is, it is nevertheless fascinating from a cultural observer’s perspective. Every nation around the world has its own ways of commemorating the lives of the recently deceased. Some communities associate funerals with lavishness and a celebration of life, whilst others, quite understandably, treat the occasion as dark, gloomy and miserable affair; often concluding with a communal ‘drowning of sorrows’ in the local pub. The Chinese people have their own distinctive and very interesting practices when it comes to the mourning process.


The Funeral

Funerals differ from place to place and family to family, but the norm in China is to have the wake before the burial or cremation – usually taking place at the deceased’s family home. And unlike most other parts of the world, the wake can last for several days, with vigils and various mini ceremonies being performed during this period.

One of the most important aspects of Chinese funerals is the symbolism of colours. White, for instance, is considered to be the colour of death in China, whilst red is the colour of happiness and prosperity and should therefore be avoided like the plague during this period. White envelopes containing money and heartfelt notes are traditionally given to the relatives of the deceased. Those who are unable to attend are still expected to send their well wishes and splash out on some nice flowers.

At the funeral it is customary to wear black, as it is in Europe or North America, although a little bit of white or pink is generally tolerated if the dead person managed to live a very long and happy life. After the wake, mourners will make their way to the temple or cemetery to say their final farewells.


Loud Noises and Evil Spirits

Have you ever been woken up at ridiculous O’clock in the morning by the deafening sound of firecrackers and/or a brass band? If you’ve been living in China for at least two months, then chances are you have. This alternative wakeup call is usually indicative of someone passing away in your local community. It is a long held belief in China that loud noises protect the deceased’s relatives from evil spirits and ensure a smooth passing into the afterlife. So next time you are awoken in the early hours by this kind of raucous, share a thought for those who have recently lost a relative!


Fake Money

Many shops scattered around the city specialise in funeral-related items. Here one can buy big piles of artificial paper money to burn for their relatives – which are burnt in order to symbolise wealth and prosperity beyond the grave. Other miniature items like houses, cars and consumer goods are also set alight to give their loved one a good send off.


Street Fires

And what funeral would be complete without a bonfire in the middle of the road? This is something that many Chinese people do, particularly in Tianjin it seems, and never fails to shock westerners who happen to be driving by. The practice of burning things in the street tends to happen during times of mourning, but some people also do this in conjunction with a wedding or a birth.  


By Josh Cooper

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