Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Chinese funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Greek funeral traditions and indigenous Australian funerals, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the person and their beliefs.
Chinese Funeral Planning
For Chinese funeral planning, there is a strong belief in the Confucian Principle. This involves devotion to one’s parents, so the children of the deceased typically plan the funeral.
If invitations are sent in the mail, they are put in white envelopes. White is the color of death in the Chinese culture.
Pink invitations may be used if the deceased was more than 80 years old, since it’s a celebration of their long life rather than a mourning of their death.
The wake can be held at a family member’s home, a local temple if they were religious, or a funeral home. Like American and Canadian funerals, attendees should avoid wearing bright colors, especially red.
Religious items are covered, and, like Irish funerals, mirrors are removed from the home. It’s believed that another death in the family will occur if someone sees the reflection of the casket in the mirror.
Guests may be given a red envelope with a coin to ensure a safe journey home, a piece of candy to eat before they leave, and a handkerchief. They may also receive a red thread to tie on their doorknob to keep evil spirits away.
The funeral procession to the cemetery consists of family members and friends, and in some cases, professional mourners may attend as well. A band may lead the procession and play loud music to scare away evil spirits and ghosts.
Depending on preference, the deceased is buried or cremated, although burials are more common. If buried, fengshui is used to determine the location of the tomb. The deceased are believed to give off an energy while buried underground that can affect the whole family.
For Buddhist Chinese funerals, the ceremony lasts for 49 days or more with prayers being said every seven days.
The festival lasts for three days in the beginning of April. One of these days is the tomb sweeping day, where families visit the gravesites of the deceased and sweep the tombs free of weeds and present items such as food, wine, joss paper (spirit money), and flowers.
The mourning period for the Chinese culture can last anywhere from 49 to 100 days.
Those in mourning wear cloth bands on their arm — the right arm for a deceased woman and the left arm for a deceased man — to show they are in the mourning period. The color of the cloth depends on your relationship to the deceased: black for the deceased’s children, blue for their grandchildren, and green for great grandchildren.
No matter what your traditions and beliefs are, grieving a loss of a loved one is a difficult situation for everyone.