Modern Chinese funeral rites derail from its intention

By Cui Bowen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/10 21:48:39

The purpose for funeral rites is to show respect and love for the deceased and ensuring the route to spiritual eternity or reincarnation is without any hurdles. Chinese people believe that a failure to follow the rules and etiquette of the funeral is likely to bring bad luck to the family of the deceased. It is with this understanding that funerals are taken very seriously in Chinese society.

However, just as your article titled "Funerals shouldn't be a burden for the living" puts it, funerals have gradually derailed from its original intention of displaying grief and accepting condolences from the mourning guests to a way for funeral service providers to earn big bucks.

As a young man in his early 20s, I have attended several funerals. I've always had mixed feelings about them, not only due to the sadness and solemnity of the funeral parlor, but also because of some appalling and backward rituals in the funeral services. Among them are exotic singing and dancing routines, and paid mourners.

The singing and dancing routines stunned me the most. I can clearly recall all the girls, most of them in their 20s, wore flamboyant costumes and shook their bodies to loud music in an erotic fashion.

It is generally believed in China that people who live past 80 must have fulfilled all their desires. Therefore, some forms of celebration would be needed at their funerals.

However, the indecent performances are beyond celebratory and in some cases, show disrespect. The singers and dancers were hired by the host family to induce more people to attend the funeral as a way to show "veneration" for the departed. Instead, it only reflects the perversion of the host family and the backward and outdated mindsets of some rural residents.

A report about striptease at a funeral in a village of Handan, East China's Hebei Province went viral and caused frenzy on social media platforms in 2015 and the stripper performance was criticized as obscene. The Ministry of Culture condemned it as a corrupted custom and hence, clamped down on the crude practice.

Another special funeral rite worth mentioning here is paid mourners, which I had seen at a funeral for a relative a few years ago. A professional mourner in white mourning dress suddenly appeared at the entrance of the funeral hall and kneeled down without hesitation. He crawled on the carpet, wailing and crying. Tears poured down his face like a flood as he made his way to the altar placed in front of the coffin. The atmosphere reached a fever pitch as the mourner leaned on the side of the coffin and grieved over the dead person.

I stood in shock and wondered whether the mourner was a relative of the deceased because the departed had no son, but then it turned out that he was a professional mourner paid to wail and cry over the deceased.

It is tradition for the family members of the departed to pour out their grief, which is considered a sign of filial piety and respect for the dead person. But expressing the grief and reverence in the presence of mourning guests would embarrass them. In this regard, professional mourners are only hired to stage a dramatic funeral.

I have no idea how these weird funeral rites gained popularity in some rural areas. They go against what a funeral entails and turn funerals into farces.

From my perspective, taking care of and spending more time with loved ones while they are alive would be more effective to display your love than making a dramatic show when they are dead.

The author is a post-graduate student in translation studies at Beijing Language and Culture University.

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