Death is the one common denominator that connects all humanity together. However, how we deal with death shows the vast differences between cultures and communities on our planet. While you’re researching and pre-planning, try looking into unique traditions from other places. Have you ever wondered how funerals are held in the Far East?
Funerals in Ancient China
Recorded Chinese history goes back thousands of years and is known as one of the most well-documented cultures. Anciently, Chinese funeral traditions were not defined by religion as much as they reflected family and cultural beliefs. Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism all combine and influence the death rituals and observances of ancient China.
The cyclical beliefs of immortality shape the living’s veneration of the dead. Those who have passed on can influence the lives of the living, and the living can save the dead by showing proper respect for their deceased ancestors. Historian James L. Watson identifies the steps in the standard funeral rites of the ancient Chinese. “First, the family would give public notice of the death. Next, the deceased’s name would be added to the ancestral tablet of the family and money would be paid to priests or clerics to pray for the soul’s safe journey to the hereafter. Music would be arranged to accompany the movement of the body from the place of death to the site of burial where the corpse would be sealed in a coffin.”
Maybe your pre-planning should include the composition of processional music!
Modern-Day Buddhist China
In the modern day, religion sets funeral traditions apart much more than any cultural differences. For Buddhists, death signifies the beginning of the rebirth process that is central to the doctrinal and religious beliefs. After death, relatives and friends bathe one hand of the deceased in water and surround the body with flowers, candles, and pictures. As loved ones gather to pay their respects, monks are called to sing prayers in honor of the dead. Most Buddhists choose to be cremated, but this does not happen right away. In fact, the wealthy or famous are often preserved for months after death before they are finally cremated.
Cremation is an ancient tradition that shows respect to the energy in all of us. Have you considered cremation as an alternative to interment as you are pre-planning?
Modern-Day Christian China
In China, most people prefer to pass away at home. Even those dying in hospitals are usually transferred to their own homes for their final hours. Upon death, all mirrors are removed from the house, religious icons are covered, and a gong is placed outside the front door. These preparations are followed by a wake where immediate family wears black while guests and friends wear bright colors. This wake lasts from 3-7 days as family and friends gather, bring money and good luck charms, and discuss the life of the deceased. After the burial, immediate family remain in mourning by wearing a black band for 100 days.
Colors are an important part of a Chinese funeral, have you considered pre-planning a color scheme?