Chinese Funeral Traditions

Posted: 22/02/2018

We take a look at some of the Chinese funeral traditions and burial rituals that dominate in the country, and how it differs to some funeral practices we consider as traditional in the UK. Chinese funeral traditions may differ on the basis of certain factors, such as whereabouts in the country the deceased person originated from. Nevertheless, some basic funeral rituals apply across China.

Arranging the funeral

The Confucian principle of filial piety plays an important role when it comes to arranging funerals in China. Confucianism is the most prolific region in the country, but also intrinsic to Chinese culture. It is based on the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius, and filial piety focuses on the devotion to one’s parents. This also applies in the event of death. Consequently, in Chinese culture funeral arrangements tend to be allocated to the children of the deceased or younger members.

When it comes to a particular date for the funeral service, family members must consult the Chinese Almanac in order to determine when it should be held. Local temples and funeral homes help prepare the funeral and the body.

The funeral plan is announced through invitations. The colour of these invitations depends on the age of a person. Generally speaking, they are white however if the deceased reached the age of 80 or over, the invitations will be pink. This is because longevity is considered a huge achievement in Chinese culture, and so mourners are instead encouraged to celebrate rather than mourn. This also concerns clothing for the funeral, with guest encouraged to wear shades of pink during the funeral service.

Chinese funeral rituals

There are certain factors the type of funeral service a person will receive. This has a lot of significance in Chinese culture, particularly as cremation remains very uncommon in the country. The following factors can influence a funeral service:

  • Cause of death
  • Marital status
  • Age
  • Social status

If the burial service is carried out incorrectly, there is a Chinese belief that bad luck will plague the family of the person who has passed.

The funeral wake

It is important to note that the wake usually takes place prior to the funeral. It is usually held in a local temple or the family home, and often last seven days.  It is expected that close family members keep an overnight vigil for the deceased, with pictures, candles and flowers place onto the body.

At the wake, family and friends bring flowers, traditional Chinese flowers are usually irises. It is also common for those attending to bring wreaths that have banners with couplets on them, showing respect to the dead.

During the funeral

On the day of the funeral, family and friends are expected to bring money in white envelopes, that is provided to the deceased’s family. It is important that it is donated in odd numbers.

As the funeral is taking place, joss paper is burnt by the bereaved. Joss paper which is known as ‘ghost money’ to ensure the safe journey of the dead into the afterlife. Other items are burnt too, such as miniature cars, televisions and houses. This is done with the intention that the dead can live a comfortable existence in the afterlife.

Chinese burial rituals for children

As previously mentioned filial piety plays a dominant role in Chinese culture. When it comes to a child or infant death, no funeral rites are performed as a result and should be buried in silence. This is due to the custom that an elder shouldn’t have to show respect to those who are younger. Consequently, if an unmarried man or woman dies, his body is left at the funeral home.

Chinese burial rituals for elders

Chinese funeral services for elders still depend on certain factors, such as the age and status of the deceased. Custom has to be followed.

After the funeral

chinese-funeral-envelope

Red envelopes are given to mourners after the funeral. Source: oopseydaisy.com

After the funeral, red envelopes are then distributed to the mourners as they leave, each containing a coin. The colour red symbolises happiness in Chinese culture, so this is supposed to end the mourning period. They may also be given a sweet and a handkerchief. However, none of these items should be taken home by guests, as it is thought to be extremely bad luck to do so.

It is also custom in Chinese culture for the deceased’s family to provide mourners with a red-coloured thread as they get ready to leave the service. Guests are encouraged to tie these threads to their doorknobs. It is thought that doing so wards away evil spirits from entering the home.

See also, Asian mourning traditions.