Chinese Views on Death and Dying Burial Techniques, Rituals and Beliefs of the Common Man

Essay by IrysCollege, UndergraduateA+, May 2004

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Chinese religion and strict cultural beliefs are inseparable from the death rites performed. Many different names for death are scattered throughout Chinese history, including an ideogram that depicts a person kneeling in front of their ancestor's bones 1. In Chinese culture, death rites are intricate and well thought out works on preparing one for the afterlife and rebirth. Chinese funeral rites have strict guidelines as to where the rites are to be performed, how the rites are performed (ritual bathing of the corpse), the dress of the attendees and the dead, the transfer of material goods on Earth to the dead, acknowledgement of the deceased and the actual burial of the body. All these sacred rites are performed by specialists (usually priests or otherwise) who are paid by the deceased's family members. Death rituals carry on long after the burial of the body in terms of grieving for the dead.

These rites include returning to the burial site on specific dates to mourn, perform yuan-fen (a symbolic act in which the burial site is rounded off with dirt to give it a nice and proper shape) and burning of incense and earthly offerings 2.

Attitudes and beliefs on death and the afterlife are quite the same among the Chinese people of the late Imperial Chinese culture and the Chinese culture of today. The continuing traditions of the ritualistic burials sheds light on one way a society can be linked culturally.

1. T.C. Lai "To The Yellow Springs: The Chinese View of Death" (17) Hong Kong: Joint Publbishing Co. and Kelly & Walsh, 1983

2. Watson, James L. and Evelyn L. Rawski "Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China" (12-15) Berklely: University of California Press, 1988

Different cultures harbor different views on death and dying, and it is important...