Asian Particulars

At Mountain View Cemetery, we have years of experience and deep knowledge of the diverse funeral rituals that are important to our Asian families.

1. Chinese Funeral Customs

Traditional Chinese funeral rites and burial customs involve numerous details that must be precisely followed. Improper rites can mean bad luck for the family left behind. The deceased’s age, cause of death, and marital and societal status are important considerations when planning a Chinese funeral. A funeral properly befitting a wealthy elder is performed even if it results in debt for the family.

In Chinese culture, elders are not to show respect to young people. If an unmarried son or daughter dies, the body cannot be returned to the home for funeral rites. Parents may not offer prayers. The body remains at the funeral home. If a baby or child dies, the child is buried in silence, and no respect can be shown, in keeping with custom.

Families now commonly choose a Western style coffin, often ordered before death, when the family member is gravely ill. When a death occurs, statues of deities in the home are covered with red paper, and mirrors are removed. Seeing the reflection of a coffin can bring about death in your family. A white cloth is draped over the doorway of the house. A gong is placed beside the door, to the left if the deceased was male, to the right for female.

In preparation for burial, the body is cleansed with a damp cloth and talcum powder, then dressed in his or her finest clothing, and placed on a mat. Clothing is usually white, black, brown or blue, but never the color red, which can turn the body into a ghost. All other clothing belonging to the deceased is burned. A yellow cloth covers the face, and a light blue cloth is placed over the body before it is placed in the coffin.

In preparation for burial, the body is cleansed with a damp cloth and talcum powder, then dressed in his or her finest clothing, and placed on a mat. Clothing is usually white, black, brown or blue, but never the color red, which can turn the body into a ghost. All other clothing belonging to the deceased is burned. A yellow cloth covers the face, and a light blue cloth is placed over the body before it is placed in the coffin.


2. The Wake

Chinese customs dictate every aspect of the wake, with a special focus on positioning. If the death occurred at home, the coffin is placed on two stools inside the house, otherwise it is placed in the courtyard. The head of the coffin faces the inside of the house. A wreath, gifts, and portrait of the deceased family member are arranged at the head of the coffin. An altar with lit candle and burning incense lies at the foot of the coffin. An offering of food is placed nearby. The comb of the deceased family member is broken in two, one part accompanies the deceased, and the other is kept by the family. No jewelry or red clothing is worn at the wake, as red is the color of happiness. Close relatives and daughters-in-law wail loudly in mourning. The cries may be quite loud if the deceased has left a large fortune. Family members gather around the coffin according to their rank. Children and daughters-in-law wear black to show they grieve the most, along with a hood of sackcloth over their heads. Sons-in-law are considered outsiders and wear bright colors, such as white. Joss paper and prayer money are burned continuously, to provide income to the deceased in the afterlife. Funeral guest’s burn incense and bow out of respect for the deceased. Monks perform chants from Buddhist or Taoist scriptures. These prayers and chants help ease the soul’s journey into heaven. A donation box is set up for guests to make contributions toward funeral costs. Typically, the daughters are responsible for funeral expenses. The wake should last at least one day, so that prayers may be offered, though this depends on the family’s resources.


3. Form of Funeral Ceremony

The Chinese observe two main traditional funeral ceremonies. In the first tradition, the funeral ceremony lasts for over 49 days, with prayers said every seven days, the first seven days being the most significant. It is important that the head of the family be present for the initial ceremonies, and for the burial or cremation (which is not common in Chinese culture).

In the second tradition, the prayer ceremony occurs every ten days. After four successive periods, the burial or cremation occurs. Again, cremation is not common. A final prayer ceremony may be held after 100 days, though it is less important than the initial prayer ceremony.

Most Chinese Buddhists belong to the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. In the Mahayana tradition, the interim period between death and rebirth is called Antarabhava. This is a critical period because it influences what form the rebirth will take. If proper funeral and burial rituals are performed successfully, the deceased family member will be more likely to experience a favorable rebirth.


4. Funeral Ceremony and Procession

After the wake, the coffin is nailed shut, representing the separation of the dead from the living. Guests turn away during the sealing of the coffin - to watch is considered bad luck. To protect the deceased from dangerous spirits, yellow and white holy paper is pasted to the coffin. The coffin is then carried from the house, making sure the head of the deceased is facing forward. It is believed that pallbearers receive blessings from the deceased, so volunteers are usually plentiful. Next, the coffin is placed on the road beside the house, where additional prayers are offered, and paper is scattered. The coffin is then placed in a hearse, and driven at walking pace, closely followed by the funeral procession, for one mile. The oldest son and family members walk along with their heads resting against the hearse. When many relatives attend, white cloth connects the hearse with the family members. White cloth or white paper marks cars that are part of the funeral procession. A joss stick, symbolizing the deceased, is held on the journey to the cemetery. The deceased must be informed if the procession crosses a body of water. An uninformed soul cannot cross.


5. Burial

Ideally, Chinese cemeteries are situated on a hillside, to improve Feng Shui. The higher the grave is, the better. When the coffin is transferred out of the hearse and into the ground, guests must turn away. The deceased’s family members throw a handful of earth into the grave before it is filled. The eldest son gathers some earth from the grave to place it in an incense holder, so that the deceased can be worshiped by the family at home. As a sign of gratitude from the deceased’s family, relatives are presented with a red packet containing money.


6. Mourning

Family members signify their continued mourning for another 100 days by wearing a colored cloth on their sleeve. The deceased’s children wear black cloth, grandchildren wear blue, and great grandchildren wear green. Some traditional families wear the cloth for up to three years. If the deceased was a child or wife, the mourning period is not observed.


7. The Return of the Dead

The Chinese believe the soul of the deceased returns to his or her home seven days after death. To ensure the soul finds its way, a red plaque bearing an inscription is placed outside the home. Family members remain in their roooms, and flour or talcum powder is scattered by the front door to detect that the soul has returned.


8. What to Expect When Attending an Asian Funeral

Asian funeral traditions have been passed down for generations to create a beautiful end of life transition. The funeral ritual embraces beauty and respect. Every detail matters and has special significance. Asian burial rituals must be strictly honored in order to avoid bringing misfortune to the deceased’s family.

The deceased’s age, marital and social status, and how traditional the family is, are important considerations when planning an Asian funeral. Cremation is rare.

In Asian cultures, an elder is not to show respect to a younger person. When a young family member dies, funeral rites cannot be carried out at the home of the deceased. This tradition includes infants and children. Instead, services are provided by a funeral home, similar to Western cultures. The service and burial are performed in silence.


9. What to Wear to an Asian Funeral

Red, the color of happiness, is forbidden at Asian funerals. Families of the deceased also do not wear jewellry to the funeral. The immediate family follows a special etiquette according to family status, when dressing for a family member’s funeral. Children and daughters-in-law wear black to signify that they mourn the most. The color white symbolizes death.


10. What to Expect After the Wake

The sealing of the coffin symbolizes the separation of the dead from the living. To avoid bad luck, guests turn away during this ritual. Yellow and white holy paper is adhered to the coffin to protect the body from dangerous spirits. On the way to the burial site, the coffin is placed next to the road alongside the house. Mourners offer additional prayers and scatter paper. The hearse moves at walking pace so that the procession may follow behind on foot. If there are many family members, they will be linked together with a white cloth. In proper procession order, family follows immediately behind, then friends. When the procession reaches the burial site, guests turn away as the coffin is transferred from the hearse and lowered into the grave. Family and friends toss a handful of earth into the open grave.

Family members wear a piece of cloth on the sleeve for 100 days, to symbolize mourning. Funeral guests are given a red packet containing money, a gift from the deceased’s family.

As with any funeral occasion, if you are unsure of your role, always be respectful and ask a family member, friend - or the funeral director - for guidance.

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