Chinese Funeral Etiquette

Prayers for the dead are recited by a monk.
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Funeral rites are important in China because the Chinese practice great respect and reverence for elders and even more for ancestors, no matter which religious tradition they follow. Additionally, an improper funeral is thought to be very bad for the fortune of the family suffering the loss. Feng shui influences many Chinese traditions as well, as evidenced by the placement of graveyards. The higher the burial site, the closer the deceased are to Nirvana.

1 Christians

Chinese Christians believe that their elderly family member should die at home. At the time of death, all the mirrors in the house are removed so as not to incur additional sorrow from a reflection of the casket. Red paper is used to cover religious statues in the home and a white cloth is draped over the front door. A Christian Chinese wake lasts from three to seven days. Family members over the age of 90 receive the full seven-day wake. A candle is lit and burns continuously throughout the wake as family members pray over the body. The body is dressed in a favorite outfit and the children, spouse and daughters-in-law of the deceased wear black. Red is never worn at Chinese funerals because it signifies happiness and is the color worn at weddings. Friends and family usually bring white irises to the wake and give envelopes of money to the family to help defray the costs of the funeral. During the funeral procession, family members wear colored cloth on their sleeves; green is worn by great-grandchildren, blue by grandchildren and black by children of the deceased.

2 Buddhists

A traditional ceremony is supposed to last for 49 days, with prayer being offered every seven days, but it is permissible to alter this tradition if the needed resources are not available. There is also an alternate tradition that features prayer ceremonies every 10 days. Following death, friends and relatives participate in a bathing ceremony by pouring water over the deceased’s head and surrounding the body with flowers, incense and candles. Mourning is done openly, and at the end of the ceremony, traditional wailing reaches a peak. At this point, the coffin is nailed shut. While it is being closed, onlookers are to face away from the coffin. The coffin is then placed beside the house of the deceased for final prayers and then loaded onto the hearse. At the burial or cremation site, monks face the coffin and say prayers while each member of the family throws one handful of dirt onto the coffin. The eldest son gathers a handful of dirt from the site to keep.

3 Taiwanese

Taiwanese people hire a specialist to read the energies of the earth, which they believe are directly tied to their health and happiness. Called a geomancer, the energy reader advises the family which day is best to hold the funeral when they will be safest from evil roaming spirits. At the time of death, family members don dark clothing and the women remove all makeup and let their hair down. While the family waits for the funeral day, they place a white square of paper on their door inscribed with the Taiwanese character for death. As the body is placed in the casket for the final procession, a priest chants and rings bells while the family places personal items in the coffin. Professional mourners, singers and dancers are hired to accompany the family to the burial site where each guest throws a handful of dirt into the gravesite.

4 Confucianism

Confucius was a philosopher, so in keeping with his teachings, followers maintain an ethical view of funerals and death rituals. The advanced moral development expected of Confucians is evident in the respect and attention to detail displayed in all important ceremonies, including funerals. Ancestors are revered when they’re names are added to a family shrine following the funeral. Earthly symbols of the deceased often are placed in the coffin at burial and can include bronze vases, gold and ceremonial robes. The role of elders is evident in all Confucian rites, so the eldest male of the deceased leads any procession, followed by younger relatives. Funerals are to be kept simple and honest, with only true feelings displayed by the guests. Followers may practice Buddhist or Christian funeral rituals, but as followers of Confucius, it is more important to show respect and consideration to the living.

Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."