Chinese Funeral Services
The Chinese don’t believe in cremation for their dead. They don’t accept inadequate or improper services since they believe both lead to ill fortune or disaster for the family of the deceased.
The types of funerals are based on the age, the status, or the position in society, the cause of death, and the marital status of the deceased. The rites and burial are highly respected and closely follow all traditions.
In Chinese culture and customs, an elderly individual should never shows respect for a younger person. It’s against tradition for a family to pay respects to their child with a funeral or viewing of the body in their home since it is the responsibility of a younger family member to perform the tasks. In a situation of a child or infant that dies, they will be buried in complete silence without a service.
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The funeral of an elderly person must follow the traditional rites. The funeral of a deceased elderly must be strictly followed even if the family does not have the financial means for the funeral.
The preparation of the funeral begins shortly after the death. When a person is on their deathbed, the family generally has ordered the casket in preparation of the burial and funeral rites. The casket is traditionally rectangular with three humps. In Western culture, the traditional casket is sometimes used instead.
There are two forms of traditions observed for the Chinese funeral. The ceremony traditionally lasts for 49 days. The first seven days are the most important of the days. Prayers are said every day during this time. If the family cannot afford to have a 49-day funeral, the time is shortened by up to seven days.
The expenses of the funeral are the responsibility of the daughters. The head of the family is to be present for the first and second prayer ceremony. The head of the family also has to be present for the cremation and burial of the deceased.
The second type of funeral consists of a prayer ceremony that’s held every ten days with three succeeding periods of ten days until the cremation or final burial. After 100 days have passed, a final prayer ceremony is performed. This isn’t always followed since it is not as important as the initial ceremony of the funeral.
When the ceremonies are finished, the wailing of all mourners will reach a crescendo followed by the casket being sealed with nails. Yellow and white “holy” paper is then pasted to the casket to protect the body from dangerous spirits. During the sealing of the casket, all in attendance are to turn from the casket since the viewing is considered unlucky.
The casket is carried from the home on a piece of wood that’s securely tied over the casket with the head of the casket facing forward at all times. The belief in the traditional manner is that the blessings of the deceased are to be given to the pallbearers, creating the desire for many to carry the casket.
The casket is placed outside the home for additional prayers, and paper is scattered around. The casket is then placed in a hearse that drives slowly for one mile with the oldest son and other family members accompanying closely behind with their heads pressed against the hearse. In the circumstances of a large family, a white piece of cloth is used to connect members that cannot touch the hearse.
The funeral procession is based on the status of family members. All the vehicles following the hearse will have a white piece of cloth tied to them or pasted in the windshields. The oldest son generally sits next to the casket.
During the journey to the cemetery, a lit joss stick is held to symbolize the deceased’s soul. It’s immediately relit should it go out. Often paper models such as statures, ships, and cars are carried during the procession to state the wealth of the deceased’s family. In the case where the hearse must cross water, the deceased is to be told of the water passage since due to tradition an uninformed soul is unable to cross water.
The burial is located on hillsides since; it’s believed that the location will improve Feng Shui. The higher the hill, the better the Feng Shui.
After the funeral, all the clothing worn by those in attendance are to be burnt, helping to avoid possible bad luck that’s associated with death. Once the casket is covered, the cemetery keeper will perform a prayer. He then presents all family members with a red packet that’s a sign of gratitude containing money that must be spent. A white towel is also used as a sign of gratitude but it’s generally used by funeral guests to remove perspiration during the funeral.
The oldest son will gather soil from the grave top that’s placed into a holder for incense where the deceased is worshipped by all the family members at the home using the ancestral tablet. The family will continue to honor the deceased with prayers.