On the passing away of the father, the eldest son becomes the head of the family. Leadership passes to the eldest son of the eldest son or the grandson of the father. The funeral ceremony, traditionally lasts over 49 days, the first seven days being the most important. The burial of the dead (cremation is traditionally uncommon) is a matter taken very seriously in Chinese societies. Improper funeral arrangements can wreak ill fortune and disaster upon the family of the deceased. According to Chinese custom, an older person should not show respect to a younger. If a baby or child dies no funeral rites are performed, as respect cannot be shown to a younger person: the child is burled in silence. Funeral rites for on elderly person must follow the prescribed form and convey relevant respect. A traditional Chinese coffin is rectangular with three “humps”, but it is more usual in modem times for a westem style coffin to be used. When a death occurs in a family all statues of deities in the house are covered with red paper (so as not to be exposed to the body or coffin) and mirrors removed from sight, as it is believed that one who sees the reflection of a coffin in a mirror will shortly have a death in his/her family. During the wake, the family do not wear jewellery or red clothing, red being the color of happiness. It is customary for blood relatives and daughters-in-law to wail and cry during mourning as a sign of respect and loyalty to the deceased. The length of the wake depends upon the financial resources of the family, but is at least a day to allow time for prayers to be offered. The coffin is not carried directly to the cemetery but is first placed on the side of the road outside the house, where more prayers are offered and papers scattered. A piece of colored cloth is worn on the sleeve of each of the children, blue by the grandchildren and green by the great-grandchildren. Chinese belief holds that seven days after the death of a family member the soul of the deported will return to his/her home.
A Brief Introduction of Death in China
The keynote for funeral and memorial service is spiritual eternity and continuation of life after death. Death at old age is a normal course of life referred to as “passing away” or” return to heaven” ,which means bock to mother’s body of the universe. Wedding and funeral are “red and white happy events” in Chinese culture.
Form of the Funeral Ceremony
The funeral ceremony, traditionally lasts over 49 days, the first seven days being the most Important. Prayers are said every seven days for 49 days if the family can offord it. If the family is in poor circumstances, the period may be shortened to from 3 10 7 days. Usually, it is the responsibility of the daughters to bear the funeral expenses. The head of the family should be present for, at least the first and, possibly the second, prayer ceremony. The number of ceremonies conducted is dependent on the financial situation of the family. The head of the family should also be present for the burial or the cremation.
Chinese cemeteries are generally located on hillsides as this is thought to improve the feng shuL The further up the hill the grove is, the better its situation is thought to be. When the procession arrives at the graveside it is token down from the hearse and, again, all present turn away from the coffin, and also turn away when it is lowered into the grave. Family members and other relatives throw a handful of earth into the grove before it is filled. After the funeral, all dothes wom by the moumers will be burned in order to avoid the bad luck associated with death. After the coffin is buried, the keeper of the cemetery will also offer prayers for the deceased. Family members and relatives are presented with a red packet (a sign of gratitude from the deceased family, and the money contained in it must be spent) and a white towel, also as a sign of gratitude but also for funeral guests to wipe off perspiration.
Folk Custom in Modem Funeral
Modem funeral and memorial service have changed the old custom in many ways. Origami and other imitation articles are no longer used. Wreath is used for sacrificial burials, which is seen as sun flower; and instead of making paper posts, people now use ever green cypress twig to symbolize the tree of life. II is a different art form, but the same cultural implication.