‘Death education’

By Lin Luwen and Li Jieyi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/3 9:31:40

Chinese discuss about teaching and understanding the end of people’s lives

Children start to have the awareness of death at the age of three to five, which appears in the form of curiosity and anxiety. Photo: VCG

Lin Zaibiao reminisces about his wife every spring since she passed away seven years ago. "A decent woman like her could be a star in the starry night," Lin wrote in his memoirs. With the chilly spring wind and bright sunshine, the 77-year-old retired professor will pay a visit to his late wife's tomb during Qingming Festival on April 5.

For many Chinese, hitting the road to their hometowns during Qingming Festival is unstoppable. Xu, a 28-year-old teacher who leads a hustle and bustle life in Beijing, is following suit. This special Chinese festival provides her a chance to pay respect to her grandfather who passed away a few years ago. "I have a deep emotional bond with my grandfather and I miss him a lot," she said.

At the beginning of early spring, the sadness of losing a beloved one always touches many Chinese people's hearts like Xu.

The steamy secrets about death

The mainstream value of death held by Chinese people remains silent, evasive and heavy.

Chinese people tend to perceive tombs as bad luck and a stifling vibe whereas it is common to see cemeteries are placed near residences, parks and other public areas in the US. Guo Jingsong, a 33-year-old legal medical examiner shared his observation with the Global Times.

Deeply affected by the Confucian culture, the veneration toward death has rooted itself in the majority of Chinese people's minds. However, fear of death always comes with veneration over superstition naturally.

A retired lady who chose to remain anonymous refused to talk about death and said that "I lost several people around me at the same age of me this year, so I don't want to talk about it." She expressed her concern and anxiety of death to the Global Times. Avoiding facing death directly not only happens to aging generations who are approaching the red line of life, but is also a concern for children.

People will have to face death sooner or later. Kids are not an exception and some of them experience the loss of a family member at a young age. An 11-year-old boy surnamed Zuo couldn't hide from shedding his tears over his grandfather who recently passed away. "I witnessed the whole process of my grandpa's death." The tears shone on his eyelashes when he was talking.

 Zuo's classmate surnamed Jing experienced losing a family member as well after his aunt passed away. What is different is that his parents didn't tell him directly. At first, his parents just told him that his aunt went to another province to study. He didn't know his aunt's death until he received a phone call from his grandmother.

A 27-year-old teacher surnamed Zhang didn't understand the concept of death until her firsthand experience. "I didn't know what a funeral was and I was happy to attend it until I saw everyone crying," Zheng said.

When tracing the reasons why people avoid facing death, overprotecting kids from feeling terrified may be one of the reasons. A 28-year-old English teacher surnamed Xue holds the view that she prefers to keep silent of the topic of death around children. "It's too heavy for them to understand," she said. "It's better for them to learn how to deal with death at an appropriate age when they can accept it," she said.

Death education in China

Gu Jin, an NPC delegate attending as a chief physician at Beijing Cancer Hospital, submitted a proposal that death education should be conducted among students in primary and middle schools. "China is exploring death education, which should focus on delivering relative knowledge, and promoting the ability to deal with death based on respecting life," he said.

Special death education for late-stage cancer patients is highlighted in his proposal. "A good death should also be a right," he said.

The proposal sparked discussion on China's internet and topped the weibo trending list. Chinese netizens' discussions over the legalization of Euthanasia have drawn public attention as well as controversy.

"Death education is education about exploring the meaning of life and death," Shen Zijiao, a lecturer at Beijing Normal University who teaches death education, explained to the Global Times.

"We don't have a special course for death education but our teacher told us something about death in a class meeting course once," Jing said.

In most Chinese primary schools, death education for young students is part of a class meeting course and several universities set death education as an optional course.

"If I had death education before facing it, there would be less regret and pity in my life," Zheng said.

"The key point is how to conduct death education among children rather than consider whether conducting it or not," Shen said. 

Lectures about life and death help students to have a better interpretation of death and respect life.

"Considering everything under the frame of death, my students start to re-rank what is the most important thing in their lives," Shen added. "Health and family are considered as most valuable to them."

Setting age aside

From Shen's perspective, death education should be taught to both kids and aged generation.

As a mother, Shen told the Global Times that children start to have the awareness of death at the age of three to five, appearing in the form of curiosity and anxiety. "It's important for parents to help them build up a correct awareness of death," she said.

From her perspective, conducting death education at an early age will promote children to have better control of their lives and build a wholesome life.

As a vulnerable group, the aging generation should accept death education appropriately. Different from children, death education should be used as a retrospect of the aging generations' lives. "Learning how to say farewell to the world in a decent way and lessening the regret helps them face death directly," Shen said.

Springtime is a good season to look at life positively, which is why people choose to celebrate Qingming Festival in early spring. Guo shared his interpretation of Qingming Festival with the Global Times. "The fear of death could be attributed to the fear of unknown things," he said. "With the popularization of the knowledge of death, people will regard death as natural progress and embrace it," Guo said.

"Simplified cremation is now quite prevalent in China," Shen added, "having relative, rational and positive attitudes towards death is still in progress."


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