Chinese Attitudes towards death






Throughout the history of mankind, ďdeathĒ has always been a fascination. People have always wondered about the causes of death, the aftermath of death, and whether it could be stopped. Among these people were the Chinese, who like many other people, believed there was life after death. They performed certain rituals ď to help them along their way.Ē Chinese attitudes toward death are reflected in funerary rituals, Buddhist philosophy and reverence for the deceased.
Death is a very important issue to the Chinese people. The son of a family has the obligation to give his parents a proper funeral. ďThis includes such essential elements as; a large coffin, a funeral procession, a well-chosen gravesite, gifts and offerings to the soul of the deceased, a period of mourning, and keeping an ancestral shrine. If a Chinese son fails to follow these obligations, he has committed a serious offense against society.Ē1
The Chinese believed in giving a proper funeral to their elders because when the elders were alive, they had shared their experiences and knowledge with the young. The Chinese followed the requirements to a proper funeral because they believed in remembering the dead, who were once close to them. They wanted to remember the dead by praying to them daily and making them offerings. The Chinese believed that there were certain rituals that were necessary for certain events. For example, during a wedding, the Chinese believed that the couple must bow to the parents and offer them tea. Only then, can the couple be happily married. Because the Chinese believe in performing certain rituals for certain events, anyone who doesnít give his parents a proper funeral would have mocked traditional beliefs. This son would be considered as a pariah in his village and looked upon as ďdirtyĒ by his neighbors.
To the Chinese, being buried in a coffin was very important. Chinese people wanted to bury the dead in coffins to preserve their bodies, protect them from decaying as fast. Although the soul of the person was to move on, the Chinese wanted to save the body as a way to remember the elderly. To some people being buried in a coffin is so important that they rather spend their money on a coffin than on necessary provisions. Although burial in a coffin is preferred, cremations also take place. A cremation is when a corpse is placed on a pyre and burned to ashes.
In the cities of present day China, because of the great overpopulation and lack of usable land, the government has made cremation a necessity. Cremation is also encouraged in rural areas in efforts of saving arable land for farming. Since the people living in the rural areas are farmers who can provide their own necessities and are independent of the government, they are more concerned with their traditional beliefs and practices than the concerns of the government. In the villages, peasants begin saving to buy coffins for themselves after they pass the age of sixty; which was considered the number of years a life cycle should be.2 People have claimed that if a person died before turning sixty years old, he/she was a ďshort-life devil.Ē Because of this belief, the people that died before turning the age of sixty years old were not buried and left wherever the happened to ďdrop.Ē3
To show how important burying the dead is, the Chinese hire elderly people who are familiar with the ancient wisdom of feng-shui, or the spirits of ďthe wind and water.Ē This type of ancient art was also called geomancy. The reason why the Chinese hire elderly people is because they want someone who is experienced in the field, not someone whoís new and had recently learned it from books. The Chinese believe that the more experience a person has, the more reliable is that person. The geomancer helped the dead select favorable sites for graves.4 These favorable sites not only had to be affordable to the family but had to bring good luck to the family and ensure that there will be no evil spirits haunting them. Like the traditional matchmaker, the geomancer is respected for his wisdom and experience in life. Some similarities between the jobs of the matchmaker and geomancer are those of which they both