Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Well, that's different #7: Funeral

I don't know much about Chinese funeral traditions but for the past few days I have been observing them from the window of my apartment. Someone in the apartment block on the opposite side of the courtyard has recently died and things have been very different to the way they would have been in England.
Several days ago two large tents were erected in the courtyard between the apartment blocks with their entrances facing each other. They were painstakingly covered with circular decorations about four feet across in the brightest of bright colours.
For three days there have been people in them and between them, sitting smoking, eating, drinking and gambling. Most of them have been dressed in sombre clothing but a few have had unusual white or off white tunics that have covered their heads and hung down their backs, fastened at the waist with belts. This garb is traditionally worn by the children and children's spouses of hte deceased.

This has continued day and night with no breaks.

Yesterday a coffin appeared and it was quite a sight. It was not the typical rather plain wooden coffin that we would use but a brightly coloured, garish even, coffin that was laid out between the two tents. The other activities continued unabated with even more people arriving and joining in. Aparently the fact that the coffin was in the courtyard rather than the home indicates that the deceased was away from home when he died.

This morming, in a loud burst of fire crackers it was removed and all the people followed. A few remained behind removing the decorations and, eventually, the tents. When I returned to my apartment after morning classes it was as if nothing had ever been there.

I don't know whether this is fully traditional or purely local or entirely idiosyncratic. It matches in broad detail some of the things I have read on the internet about Chinese funeral traditions but differs in many of the specifics.

The gambling, for example, is very traditional, apparently helping to keep guard on the house. It is supposed to help the guards stay awake during their vigil and bring them comfort and solace.

It has been interesting to watch and my internet researches have also thrown up one or two other things that seem odd to us.

For example in Chinese culture and elder family member cannot show respect to a tounger one so that people older than the deceased do not usually take part in the mourning and children who die are buried with very little ceremony as it would involve such respect being shown.

Also all colours are allowed to the mourners except red as this colour would bring misfortune on the family though traditionally the closest family wear black and the grandchildren wear blue.

It all seemed very different from when my father died but when I think about it the British traditions of laying out floral tributes in the garden of the deceased, the funeral procession, the wake back at the house or in the pub after the burial, must also seem odd to foreigners.

It's been an interesting few days observation.