Chinese Funeral Customs

A Chinese funeral could easily be mistaken for a party. With all the peanut shells and mahjong tiles one would think they walked into a living room during the New Year. And you might have, but although the noise will be loud, the tones will be somber.

The Chinese believe that a soul is in pain in this life and that death brings them relief. So the noise at a Chinese funeral is a mix of celebration along with mourning. Chinese are generally happy for the deceased but sad for those left behind.

Those left behind can consists of a spouse, to oldest son, daughter in law, or other relatives. All of them have a certain place in the funeral. The spouses’ is the right shoulder of the coffin and the oldest son is at the right. If you are the son-in-law you must dress in light colors, preferably white as status is showed by the dark colors. The spouse and the daughter-in-law, in contrast, wear black.

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You won’t see any mirrors at a chinese funeral. They believe it is bad luck to see the reflection of a coffin. Luck at a Chinese funeral may be the most cherished commodity.

Monks will be there chanting Buddhist or Taoist scriptures. This is believed to bestow luck on the departed and help them over the obstacles they encounter during their journey to the afterlife. The Chinese believe during our life we are all capable of doing bad things. Those transgressions cause obstacles in the afterlife. The Monks are there to help, like cheerleaders, to get this guy to the finish line!

There’s also some cheering going on outside. Most Chinese believe that the body must be guarded from evil spirits while resting in the coffin. In order to keep the twenty four hour watch going, the Chinese will gamble, which helps them stay awake, all through the night. The loud sound of the mahjong tiles being slapped down as well as the general cacophony of firecrackers blasts and chanting creates what might appear to be a festive environment, and again, it may be interpreted as one because the Chinese believe the “pain” of life is over, but it is done primarily for good luck and to keep the corpse company so it does not get lonely on it’s journey toward the afterlife.

After this period, or wake, the coffin is nailed shut and brought to the cemetery. The procession can be a very long and lengthy process. The oldest son is expected to sit with the coffin while the family members attend closely by.

In some cases they rest their heads against the hearse in a show of mourning as it parades at just a few miles an hour on way to the cemetery. Streams of white paper are used to keep the group together. Most of them are walking. If you are following in your own car you have a piece of the white paper on your dashboard, signifying you are part of the group.

The cemetery itself is usually located on the side of a hill. The final  alignment of the resting body has to do with the Chinese belief in feng shui. When the body is lowered into the ground everyone must turn away, as watching would be bad luck. The immediate family members then take handfuls of dirt and toss them into the pit until the coffin is buried. The eldest son, afterwards, takes a handful of the dirt back to the house and stores it in an urn which will hold the incense sticks burned in remembrance of elders for years to come.

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