History in photos: Burial in Chengdu
Part 2 of History in photos is photos and a translated description of funeral rituals in Chengdu during the first half of the Republic. The photos and text in Chinese are posted on Ilishi, and we suspect that the original text might be an account written by a foreign observer (perhaps the photographer himself), but Ilishi does not provide any information about the source of either the photographs or the text.
(Click here for Part 1 of the series.)
After a person dies, the household leaders will quickly notify the neighbors and work units and set off firecrackers in order to let the people around know that there has been a death in the house.
Family members will dress the deceased in burial clothes and create a mourning hall in the main room of the house, in which the deceased will be placed on a tablet underneath which burn tung-oil altar lamps, day and night.
Family members will watch over them day and night so as to not allow them to burn out in order that he or she may follow the road to the afterlife. When friends and relatives receive the news and go to the home of the deceased, the children will kneel down to greet them. This is called "fang xin," and it is a simple way to let the relatives know it is this house where somebody has died rather than state the details of the situation. Sons and daughters who are far away, no matter how busy they are, will rush back to the family home; otherwise they will be regarded as unfilial, and once they have been labeled as such, for the rest of their lives will no longer be able to raise their heads among family or neighbors.
Upon entering the door they cry out and rush into the main room to kneel in front of the deceased, ceaselessly wailing.
The eldest will wrap an unadorned white cloth called the xiaopa (孝帕) around his or her head. Once all the close family members are present, they will discuss the date of the burial and how the errands and expenses will be divided. The relative donning the xiaopa may not visit homes of other families at this time, and if others come to call on the family, he or she must first remove the cloth so as to not create a situation regarded as ominous.
For those who die in their later years, the coffin is usually prepared in advance along with the burial site, and a Buddhist monk or Daoist priest requested on the burial date. From the day that the person dies onward, sons and daughters must hold nighttime vigil so that the deceased will not go along the road to the afterlife in solitude. Incense must burn at all times as this represents the uninterrupted continuation and flourishing of future generations. Usually this is the job of the younger relatives of the deceased, who kneel down and also burn paper money so that the deceased will not be lacking money on the journey to the afterlife.
It is usually the job of the monk or priest looking after the fengshui to tell the head of the family when to close the coffin, hold the funeral, and do the burial, for the timing of these arrangements all follow strict rules. Generally, the coffin should be closed on midnight of the day following the death, with the sons and daughters of the deceased kneeling or standing beside the coffin. Paper money is stuffed into the coffin so that the deceased may rest in peace, and also to give future generations prosperity. When the coffin is closed, all of the children of the household are awoken in order to help prevent ominous spirits from gathering around. The coffin-closing time is also the last time for the family members to see the deceased for once it is closed it is sealed up forever in order to pay respect to the deceased.
Usually in the morning the coffin will be moved from the main room to the doorway, and at this time all of the children and grandchildren of the deceased must kneel in front of the coffin, and the women cry loudly.
Then according to a schedule that has been calculated previously, the funeral will proceed. The procession also follows strict rules: Usually the family members lead, holding floral wreaths, followed by the eldest son of the deceased's eldest son, throwing paper money into the air.
The eldest son will hold a portrait of the deceased, the second son will hold a banner stating the virtuous deeds of their deceased ancestors, the third son will hold the burning incense, and the other relatives will hold paper money and firecrackers, and the rest of the people in the procession will carry the coffin. In the very back are the people to beat gongs and announce the funeral. The portrait of the deceased must be held upright and the expression solemn.
When the procession reaches the grave, the burial begins.
As the coffin is lowered into the ground, all of the children and grandchildren kneel once more to the ground, using their hands to throw earth into the pit. The coffin carriers use metal spades to bury the coffin.
Each of the three days after the burial, relatives must grieve and burn incense and paper money. This ritual is repeated seven days after the burial, and the tomb is swept every year on Qingming Jie (Tomb-Sweeping Day) and New Year's.
Share this article
Next article: Sichuan poetry notes: Li Shangyin - the Poet of Illicit Love
Previous article: Voices in the Sound Part 1: Wu Zhuoling, singer songwriter and more