The specific elements of Chinese funeral and burial rites will depend on the age, social status, marital status, and cause of the deceased’s death. Cremation is uncommon. As a result of this, burial of the dead is of utmost importance to the Chinese people. If the burial is carried out incorrectly, it is believed that disaster and bad luck will plague the family of the deceased.
Chinese Funeral Rites for Children
There is an established Chinese custom that an elder should not have to show respect to someone who is younger. Because of this, if an unmarried man dies, his corpse must be left at the funeral home. His parents are not allowed to take the body home or even to offer prayers for their son. These are jobs reserved for the offspring of the deceased.
People in Western cultures are sometimes shocked to learn that when a child or infant dies there are no funeral rites performed. The child must be buried in silence because to do otherwise would require an older person to show respect to a child.
Chinese Funeral Rites for Elders
The funeral of an elder must be conducted according to the person’s age and status and must be carried out completely. Even if the funeral will cause the family of the deceased to go into debt, the funeral must be carried out according to custom.
The family will begin preparation for a funeral before death. A casket is usually ordered by family members while the person is still on his or her deathbed. An undertaker will oversee all of the funeral rites.
At home, the deceased’s family will cover statues of deities with red paper and the mirrors within the house will be removed. This is largely a superstitious practice, as the Chinese have traditionally believed that a person who sees the reflection of the casket in the mirror will experience another death in his or her family. White cloth is hung in doorways of the home, and a gong is placed at the entrance. If the deceased is male, the gong is placed on the left side. For females, it is placed on the right side.
Before the body is placed inside the casket, it is cleaned and dusted with talc. Then the body is dressed in the deceased’s best clothing, and all of the other clothing is burned. According to tradition, a body should never be dressed in red because it could turn the deceased into a ghost.
Period of Mourning
The funeral ceremony lasts 49 days, but the first 7 are the most important. Prayers are said once a week, but the number of ceremonies held depends upon the financial wealth of the family. Even though the funeral rites end, mourning continues for the family for 100 more days.