A CHINESE FUNERAL

by
LEE A. WOOD


A MU CHANG, OR CEMETERY.

Author's note:
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Copy, in whole, or in part, without express permission of the author is illegal.

Ping Qiu, died in Jan. of '99. Like most Chinese, Ping Qiu's body was cremated. His ashes were stored in a gu hui xiang, ash box. In this case the gu hui xing was made of red cherry wood. The gu hui xiang, with matching pedestal was stored in a locked cubicle at a funeral home in Pu Dong.

December 20 th., after consultation with a Feng Shui master, was chosen as the date for internment.

(Pic. of Chi Mei Fong preparing food.)
Chi Mai Fong in the kitchen preparing food.
Preparations for the zang li, or funeral, included the folding of small squares, of silver, and slightly larger squares, of yellow, paper into xi bo, a boat like shape, to represent ancient money. In ancient times pure gold was cast in such a shape and used as currency. (a platter of xi bo.)

The xi bo can not be handled by someone who has eaten pork, a woman who is pregnant or having her menstrual cycle, as the departed will not be able to consume it.

(Pic. of a canal.)
The mu chang is pleasantly divided by canals.

Crossing a bridge over a canal in the center of the relatively new mu chang, or cemetery, on the outskirts of Pudong, district of Shanghai, we walked along row after row of elaborately designed mu bei, or headstones.

(Pic. of cemetery.)
Rows of mu bei within the mu chang.

The mu bei are slabs of marble that stand about a meter and a half high and are decorated with red and gold characters, giving the date of death and the name of the deceased. There is often an oval niche carved into the rock to hold a photo of the deceased. Many of the mu bei contain two photos as they represent two departed souls and have a pair of muxue at their feet.

(Pic. of a mu di.)
A mu di, or grave.
Basically the mu di, or graves, are mu bei standing behind a mu xue. The mu xue is a carved rock receptacle, a block of granite or marble into which an opening has been carved, large enough for the gu hui xiang. (Pic. of a mu di.)
The back of the mu di or mu bei is adorned with a picture.

The purchased plot or mu di is approximately a meter and a half square. The entire structure is one of many, in long rows separated by a one meter wide concrete path. Everything is situated above the surface of the earth.

(Pic. of rows of graves.)
Rows of mu di separated by narrow walkways.

(Pic. of a rocket exploding.)
The rocket explodes in the air above the mu chang.

The family gathers in front of the site of internment while younger brother sets off three rockets. Any number of rockets could be used, provided it is an uneven number, three being the most common. The rockets fly to a height of about six meters where they explode with a loud bang to bring good luck to the departed.

The gong ren, or attendant, of the mu chang lifts the marble lid from the mu xue. Into the mu xue, yellow xi bos are placed, by a member of the family, and then set on fire. As the flames continue more xi bos are added by family members. This represents giving money to the deceased that he may have wealth to provide for himself in the afterworld.

(Pic. of burning xi bo.)
Yi Ming adds more xi bo to the flames.

(Pic. of the gong ren pouring shi gao fen.)
The gong ren pours shi gao fen into the wu xue to level the bottom.

When the fire has consumed all of the xi bos and the flames have died, the attendant pours shi gao fen, a white plaster powder, over the ashes to level the uneven bottom of the hole.

The wooden gu hui xiang containing the deceased's ashes is removed from its pedestal, wrapped in a red cloth, to keep the spirit of the deceased within, then placed in a plastic box. Currency is placed between the wrapped gu hui xiang and the sides of the plastic box, then the lid of the plastic box is glued into place.

(Pic. of the mourners conversing with the Feng Shui master.)
The Feng Shui Master confirms his findings with the family. Because of the inclement weather he is still wearing his motorcycle helmet.

The plastic box, not used by all families, which is to preserve the wooden gu hui xiang, is then lowered into the rock receptacle and the Feng Shui master places a compass on top of the plastic box and makes some assessments, confirming that the mu di faces in the proper direction so that the departed will have good fortune in the afterworld. After he takes the compass away the gong ren places the marble lid, temporarily, over the opening.

On top of the marble lid, the family places dishes of food: fish and other meats; pears; oranges; mushrooms; buns; sweets; rice. A bottle of wine is opened. Some of the wine is poured into a cup. The bottle and cup are set with the food. A plate is set out with a pair of chopsticks. Incense and candles are lit and placed in front of the food.

The silver xi bos are now set on fire in front of the mu di and the rest of the yellow xi bos are added to the flames.

(Pic. of the Yi Ming pouring pouring wine.)
Yi Ming pours the wine while other family members intone jings.

(Pic. of the attendant mortars on the lid.)
The gong ren mortars the lid onto the mu xue.

After the xi bos are burnt the food is removed, the attendant lifts the lid and applies fresh mortar around the opening, then seals the lid into place. As well he mortars a couple of small gold coloured, metal or plastic, xi bos and a small, plastic, basket of flowers between the lid and the mu bei.

While the gong ren is about his duties a string of firecrackers is ignited to bring good luck to both the living and the deceased.

(Pic. of firecrackers.)
A string of firecrackers is exploded to assure good luck.

Some of the food is left on top of the mudi while the rest is taken home. Beside the food that is left, flowers and pictures are arranged.

(Pic. of mourners.)
A final jing is said and food is left.

A final three rockets are launched to bring good luck to those who attended the zang li.

Leaving the mu chang grounds, several pieces of newspaper are burnt, in the parking lot, and each member of the party must step over the flames two or three times so that bad spirits in the mu chang can not follow them home. A final gesture is the washing of hands. This washing of the hands of the living is to show that they are no longer responsible for the monetary well being of the deceased. Henceforth any money the living make is for themselves.

After returning home from the mu chang, to bring good luck, each member of the party will eat some of the food that was taken from the mu di. The food is set at table and becomes part of the family meal.

As the zang li I witnessed was held late in the year, most of what I witnessed, at the house, was repeated a few days later for the semi annual, ji shi. Ji shi, or homage to deceased relatives, is held twice, or four times, a year, a day or two, before, or after, the changing of the seasons.

This year, because of the zang li on the twentieth, the nearest Sunday to the winter solstice was Christmas eve. Sunday was chosen because that was the day that all the family would be able to get away from work.

Family members get up early and begin making xi bo. I was shown how to fold the silver paper but because I didn't say the jing properly, 'Na mo o mi to fo', the money I made was useless to those it was intended for.

(Pic. of Huang Jun Jia and Huang Jia folding xi bo.)
Huang Jun Jia (L) and Huang Jia fold xi bo.

As each piece of paper is folded it is opened to its new shape by blowing on the crown, at which time the jing is intoned.

(The table is set.) While food is being cooked, being sure not to use any onion or garlic, the table is set. The chop-sticks are set at each place with the handles pointing towards the center of the table. At each setting a cup is filled with wine. A package of cigarettes and an ashtray is placed at each setting of those who smoked and a cigarette is taken from each pack, lit, and placed on an ashtray. (Pic. of table of food.)
After the table is set, Jing Xian lights the candles.

When the food: rice; noodles; prawns; beans; bamboo shoots; fish; and eggs, plus, on the twentieth, the food that was brought back from the mu chang, has been placed on the table, incense is wafted in front of the open door and jings are intoned to invite the quests, spirits of the departed, into the house. More incense, along with candles, is lit and placed at the foot of the table.

Each member of the family approaches the end of the table, bows and says a jing.

After sufficient time, for the departed to have partaken of the repast, approximately the time it takes the stick of incense to burn, the family sits at the table, reverses the direction of the chop-sticks and partakes of the meal.

(Pic. of Jing Xian burning xi bo.)
Jing Xian burns xi bos before the meal
Before partaking of the meal the xi bos are set on fire. When one walks through a Chinese residential area it is common to find patches of yellow on the pavement of the street. This is the stain from the burning xi bo. To step on this stain is disrespectful. (Bin burns xi bo at the foot of the table.)
After the table is set, before the meal begins, Bin burns xi bo.

END

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2006 ADDENDUM

by
LEE A. WOOD

(Interior courtyard of a temple in Pu Dong.)
(Photo Dec. `06)
INTERIOR COURTYARD OF A TEMPLE IN PU DONG

Unlike Canada where interment usually follows funeral ceremonies within a few hours, interment in China, as witnessed in my above article re: Bin's cousin, can be many months after the funeral. In the case of Bin's mother, internment followed within a few days. However it involved the reinternment of her father who had been buried, illegally, many years previously.

Funerals are held when it is convenient, I.e. the family can get together, temples are available, etc. Interment, on the other hand, takes place according to the position of the moon. Also the convenience of others is taken into account. The ideal situation is when the maximum number of family members can be present on a day that is in the right lunar cycle.

After Bin's cousin died he was cremated, as are most people in china. His ashes were stored in a vault until such time as a funeral could be arranged. This also happened with her mother although the storage was for a much shorter period.

However, when her father died, she, being very close to her father, did not want the ashes stored. She had the ashes smuggled out of the vault and buried in the garden where she could see the spot from her kitchen window.

When the funeral arrangements were made for her mother, a double burial plot was purchased.

Early in the morning, on the day of the funeral, we went back to the place Bin used to live, before she came to Canada to live with me. In the dark, with the use of flashlights and shovels, while people were looking out their windows to see what we were doing, we found her father's resting place, in the flower bed, and dug him up.

We had come prepared with a new burial box and into this we placed what we could find of his ashes. The original burial box had completely deteriorated but there was still a bit of the cloth bag and we were able to find most of the ashes.

For pictures, and a story about the funeral, see my article, A Death in China.

What I want to explain here is the follow up to the funeral.

The first year after a funeral, actually, after the death, is an important occasion. Remembrances, and respects are paid. The family goes to the grave site and prayers are said. Food, cigarettes, and drinks, are given, as is money, by burning xibo. Fire works are set off. The entire family will, later in the day, go to a restaurant for a large supper.

The second year, anniversary, after the death is not quite as important though respects are paid on the proper day. However, the third year is the most important.

On the third anniversary, throughout the week, each member of the family will hold a luncheon in their home. Other members of the family will attend. A table is set aside with photos, candles, food, wine, incense. Prayers are said and then lunch is eaten.

On the most auspicious day, preferably a day when all can attend, a grave side service is held. As well a temple hall is rented and a vigil is held from 7 AM to 3 PM.

The following are pictures of the temple. Though I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the monks, or the inside of the temple, I did ask, and received permission, to take a picture of the lantern. (The other pictures I took when the monks were on a break.)

(Tall, ornate, wooden cases, with glass fronts, containing Putas.)
THE INTERIOR OF THE MAIN BUILDING CONTAINS THREE LARGE CASES WITH PUTAS. THIS IS THE ONE ON THE LEFT.
(Tall, ornate, wooden cases, with glass fronts, containing Putas.)
THIS IS THE ONE ON THE RIGHT
(Tall, ornate, wooden cases, with glass fronts, containing Putas.)
THIS IS THE ONE IN THE CENTER

USING RICE, ONE OF THE MONKS, IN FRONT OF THE CENTER PUTAS, DREW A LANTERN

The lantern is to light the way, of the deceased, across the bridge of darkness. After a person dies they must cross a bridge. On the crest of the bridge they will meet an old lady who will give them some Mengpo soup. The soup will cause them to lose their memory. Their mind will then be clear for a fresh start and they can enter a womb to become born again.

The dead have a choice, they need not cross the bridge if they wish to stay where they are, and retain their memory so that they might watch those they left behind.

Those who cross the bridge are then judged on their past performances. If they were bad, while they were alive, the womb they will enter could be that of a rat, or some lower form of life. If they were good they could enter the womb of a higher from of life such as a tiger.

Most, of those, who cross the bridge, will enter the womb of a human.

(A picture of the deceased father.)
QI ER WANG
MY FATHER-IN-LAW
(A table with food, candles, pictures, and incense.)
BACK IN THE CORNER, BEHIND THE DISPLAY ON THE LEFT,
IS A PRIVATE SETTING, WITH PICTURES OF THE DECEASED.
(A picture of the deceased mother.)
FENG HE HUA
MY MOTHER-IN-LAW

(A table with food, candles, and incense.)
AT THE END OF THE DAY, PERSONAL ITEMS ARE TAKEN HOME
FOOD IS LEFT FOR THE DECEASED

Throughout the day the priests ring their bells and lead everyone to a Puta for prayers. Sometimes you go around the whole temple stopping at each Puta. other times you just go to one area.

After each prayer you drop coins in the box in front of the Puta.

Sometimes you go to the family table.


(The Family gather around a fire in the courtyard.)
AFTER THE CEREMONIES INSIDE, A LARGE PILE OF XIBO ARE BURNT.
THE PICTURES OF THE DECEASED ARE PUT ON TOP OF THE XIBO
(The Family gather around a fire in the courtyard.)
(BEFORE THE FIRE WAS LIT, I TOOK PICTURES OF THE PICTURES)

END

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