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In Chinese culture, it is very important that the deceased be buried with proper rituals. If this is not done, it is feared, then the next of kin will be cursed or haunted by ghosts. The rituals around death and the funeral differ by region and social class. The cause of death and the age of the deceased also play a role. Even so, there are some common elements, such as honouring the ancestors and paper sacrificial gifts. The Chinese, like most other Asians, avoid the word ‘died’. They would rather say that someone has gone to another world.
‘The rituals around death and the last farewell are very important for the next of kin’
Seven layers of clothing
Traditionally, the Chinese choose burial, but those who adhere less to tradition may also choose cremation. Often, a Feng Shui master is asked to guide the next of kin and to ensure that all the rituals are performed correctly. The Feng Shui master determines the date, the location and the time of the burial. The preparations begin even before the person has passed away. The coffin is often already ordered while the person is on their deathbed. After death, the deceased is ritually bathed. He or she is then dressed in seven layers of clothing. The soul of the deceased can then make the long journey to the other world in peace. In China, the deceased is buried above the ground in a kind of hill – preferably by the water – into which the coffin is inserted.
‘Traditionally, the Chinese choose burial. The preparations begin even before the person has passed away’
Fake money and fireworks
Before and during the funeral, it is customary to burn fake money and paper replica objects. The idea behind this is that the smoke rises to the heavens, so that the deceased can use the money and goods there. Sometimes, coins are thrown at the casket; these are also for the life after death. Other rituals may include: placing rice and paper lotus blossoms in the casket, placing a coin in the mouth of the deceased and tossing Joss paper (printed paper sheets also known as ghost or spirit money) out of the procession vehicle on the way to the burial site. During the burial, fireworks may be set off to frighten away ghosts. When the coffin is lowered into the grave, the Chinese often turn their backs. This is to prevent spirits from going home with them. An umbrella may also never be raised at the burial site, because the spirit of the deceased could hide under it.
‘When the coffin is lowered into the grave, the Chinese often turn their backs. It is customary to burn paper replica objects during the funeral’
White = mourning
In China, white is the colour of mourning and sadness. The family therefore wears white clothing during the funeral. Today, it is also permitted to wear harmonious colours if needed in addition to white. Avoid the colour red, because this symbolizes prosperity and luck in Chinese culture. It is customary to greet the family with a bow. This is often done silently. One of the most common and largest Chinese cemetaries in the Netherlands can be found at Herdenkingspark Westgaarde in Amsterdam. This location also features comprehensive facilities for ritual bathing of the deceased.
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