Funeral Customs in China

The goal of this project is to dive deep into an aspect of Chinese life regarding religion or beliefs. The topic I chose for my project is the funeral customs in China. The reason I chose this topic is because I was interested in the customs of another country. For another class, multicultural psychology, we learned about death and how it is viewed in other countries. China was not one of them and I was curious to learn more about their funeral and death beliefs. What I decided to do was research death and funeral customs for the five main religions in China. The main five are Confucianism, Daoism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. It was also important to me that I add how these various religions view death and the afterlife. A majority of the main funeral customs in China really depend on what religious practice the person or family follows. The reason I did this was to narrow a larger topic and make research more manageable. Throughout my research, I have found many similarities and differences between the various Chinese religious sects.

Those who follow Confucianism believe that living life is more important than worrying about death. Life and death are looked at as a whole system instead of two different states. Death is seen as eternal rest and is even seen as a good thing by some people. Ghosts and spirits are not talked about much but there is a belief of the afterlife. This is not for superstition, but talking about it only distracts one from living their current life. When someone dies, there is also many customs that are followed to pay respect to the deceased. After someone dies the family will hang fake money outside and set off fire crackers. This also acts as a notification for people in the community that someone has passed. The body is washed and dressed then placed in a coffin where people can come to pay condolences. The body is then cremated after three days. Traditionally the body is buried but it is mandatory to be cremated in China due to lack of space.

Followers of Daoism have similar beliefs in focusing on the present life. The goal is to reach salvation in this life and not the afterlife. One difference is that Daoist’s prepare for their funeral ahead of time by making their own coffin. After someone dies, the body is washed and covered in cloth. In the home the faces of any statues are covered in red paper and the doors have white cloth over them. The body is then buried and everyone gets together for a feast afterwards. The purpose of the feast is to thank the guests for their support and attending. There are many expectations for people mourning during certain periods of time. Confucianists on the other hand still mourn for a longer period of time after the funeral.

Islamic customs are very different than the ones discussed prior. Death is seen as eternal rest that is inevitable for all. The difference lies in how they view life where all of us have good and bad in us. Life should be how God wants one to live and is mentioned in the Quran. When someone dies, the body is washed, perfumed, and shrouded. If someone passed during their religious pilgrimage (Hajj/Umrah), their face and head are not covered. Unlike the other religious customs, the body is not buried in a coffin. The body is buried only with the shroud it is covered in. There are also certain time frames where the body can be buried (times sunrise, sun at the highest point, and when the sun beings to pale). As all of this is being done, a relative will tell the deceased what is happening. This is due to the belief that the dead can hear and understand people. It is also a precaution for some spirits are not aware that they have passed form their physical body or life. People are given three days to openly mourn the loss of their loved one.

Looking at some of these religious customs there are many connections that can be made. Everyone has their own idea about the afterlife and what to do when death occurs. This can also be see in America where there is a diverse population. Granted burial is allowed here unlike China as well as more religious tolerance. These religious communities follow scripture to ensure that loved ones will move on and be remembered. I have learned that there are many customs within one religion with the There are two more religions, Christianity and Buddhism that I have not discussed in this abstract. I wanted to choose three that are similar and also have some obvious distinctions. The form of my final project is a booklet going through each of the five religions and summarizing main points or topics. I thought it would be a creative way to display my research. I was thinking of a tourist approach or information booklet. I also have a section looking at America and how these customs can be more diluted with the vast amount of people leaning towards no religion or belief.

Chen, Biao. “Coping with Death and Loss: Confucian Perspectives and the use of Rituals.” Pastoral Psychology 61.5-6 (2012): 1037-49. ProQuest. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Death and Dying.” Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2017.

Writer, Leaf Group. “Burial Rituals of Taoists.” Our Everyday Life. Our Everyday Life, 10 Dec. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

2 thoughts on “Funeral Customs in China

  1. Brian Holder

    The funeral practices in China are definitely far different than what I’m used to in modern American society. What I find incredibly interesting about this post is the connections between the Confucian views of death and the views of death in Haitian Vodou. For my Shaking the Spirit project, I created a Boutey Vodou (Vodou Spirit Bottle) honoring the Vodou spirit of death, Gede. Just like in Confucianism, Gede often presents the idea that it is more important to worry about one’s own current life rather than death, as he is a playful and child-like spirit, and treats death in such a manner. Vodou is a very pragmatic belief system, and most practitioners of vodou are more concerned with the “here and now” rather than the afterlife, especially because the afterlife in vodou isn’t a very positive one. It’s definitely interesting to see that particular view of death in two very distinct cultures.

  2. Pingback: Cultural Projects Proposal: Rituals | Socials 11

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