Chinese Funeral Customs
Since cremation is traditionally uncommon, the burial of the dead is a matter taken very seriously in Chinese society. Improper funeral arrangements can wreak ill fortune and disaster on the family of the deceased. To a certain degree, Chinese funeral rites and burial customs are determined by the age of the deceased, cause of death, status and position in society, andmarital status. According to Chinese custom, an elder should never show respect to someone younger. So, if the deceased is a young bachelor, for example, his body cannot be brought home and must remain at the funeral parlor. His parents cannot offer prayers to their son, either: Since he was unmarried, he did not have any children to whom he could perform these same rites. (This is why the bodycannot come into the family home.) If an infant or child dies, no funeral rites are performed either since respect cannot be shown to a younger person. The child is thus buried in silence. Funeral rites for an elder must follow a prescribed form: Rites befitting a person's status, age, etc., must be performed even if this means the family of the deceased will go into debt. Preparation for a funeraloften begins before a death has occurred. When a person is on his/her deathbed, a coffin will often have already been ordered by the family. A traditional Chinese coffin is rectangular with three 'humps', although it more common in modern times for a western style coffin to be used. The coffin is provided by an undertaker who oversees all funeral rites. When a death occurs in a family all statuesof deities in the house are covered up with red paper (not to be exposed to the body or coffin) and all mirrors are removed (it is believed that one who sees the reflection of a coffin in a mirror will shortly have a death in his/her family). A white cloth is hung over the doorway to the house and a gong is placed to the left of the entrance if the deceased is a male, and to the right if female.Before being placed in the coffin, the corpse is cleaned with a damp towel dusted with talcum powder, and dressed in his/her best clothes (all other clothing of the deceased is burned) before being placed on a mat (or hay in rural areas). The body is completely dressed, including the footwear, and cosmetics (if female), although the corpse is never dressed in red clothing (this will turn thecorpse into a ghost). White, black, brown or blue are the usual colors. Before being placed in the coffin the corpse's face is covered with a yellow cloth and the body with a light blue one.
The coffin is placed on its own stand either in the house (if the person died at home) or in the courtyard (if the person died away from home). The coffin is placed with the head of the deceased facingthe inside of the house, resting at about one foot from the ground on two stools; wreaths, gifts and a portrait or photograph of the deceased are placed at the head of the coffin. The coffin is not sealed during the wake. Food is placed in front of the coffin as an offering to the deceased. The deceased's comb is broken into two -- one part is placed in the coffin and the other is kept by thefamily. During the wake, the family does not wear jewelry or red clothing (red = happiness). Traditionally, children and grandchildren of the deceased did not cut their hair for 49 days after the death, but this custom is now usually only observed by older generations. It is customary for blood relatives and daughters-in-law to wail and cry during mourning as a sign of respect and loyalty to thedeceased. The cries are particularly loud if the deceased has left a large fortune. At the wake, the family members of the deceased gather around the coffin positioned according to their rank in the family and special clothing is worn: Children and daughters-in-law wear black (signifying that they grieve the most); grandchildren, blue; and great grandchildren, light blue. Sons-in-law wear brighter...
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