Farewell from a foreign family at a traditional Chinese funeral

By Nadine Hudson ( China Daily ) Updated: 2009-07-29 10:30:34
We run a guesthouse in a small village near Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and integrating into rural life has been one of our main interests.

Farewell from a foreign family at a traditional Chinese funeral

Recently, the father of our night guard passed away. The bangs of fireworks heralded the start of the funeral, on a day that rained continuously, causing floods - unusual in the dry season.

The immediate family stayed with the body for nearly two days and various rituals were carried out. There were signs of respect and a way of saying farewell. And there was possibly a vital chance for the Chinese involved to hold on to some of their rich cultural heritage.

Bowls of rice and steamed pigs legs were put in front of the heavy, wooden coffin, as well as a chicken with its feet tied. Close family members wore off-white linen coats, hurriedly made for the occasion.

The fireworks exploded all day and night, scaring away the bad spirits. The musicians played their tin flutes and drums. Dragon dancers followed a rhythm so as to protect the dead man on his path to the afterlife.

When it was our turn to offer sympathies to the family we stopped at the local corner shop to buy a red envelope, (hongbao), and put some notes in to contribute to the funeral costs, as well as buying incense sticks and paper money. Then we stepped into the makeshift tent.

Michael, my husband, stood in front of the coffin and lit a candle, which he placed in a rice bowl. He repeated the procedure with a bunch of incense sticks and let our two boys copy him. I went last. We folded some paper money, set fire to it and placed it facing the altar, on the sandy floor, where it quickly turned to ashes.

The smoke from the burned donations was carried away by the wind. Lastly, we bowed a few times out of respect to the deceased and shook hands with his family members. We felt a strong bond with these people.

We were also invited to the funeral's evening meal and felt honored. Mourning, for us, is a private affair, but this invitation felt like a sign of acceptance and trust.

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