Chinese Funeral Ceremonies

Following my accounts, a recent experience of Taoist Ceremony at a funeral in Hong Kong, was submitted by Mr. William Pau

Today 9th August, 2000, my husband drove us to attend the funeral of his grandmother, who died at age 89. She had lived in a long life. She had a Catholic funeral ceremony, which was very beautiful and peaceful.. I felt very relaxed and comfortable at the mass and the whole process. On the contrary, I was very tense and uncomfortable at my own grandparents' funerals, which were in Hong Kong at 1970s.

Interestingly, Hong Kong funeral ceremonies are mostly done in Taoist or ancestor-worshipping styles. Some, though, are religious, like Buddhist, Christain and Muslim.

I remembered after my grandmother was announced dead at the hospital, my parents, who were the first son of the dead and his wife, were authorized to organize her funeral. The first task for my mother was to solve this problem: What were we going to wear? In Hong Kong, family members wear burlap strips and white cotton cloths over their own white T-shirts and pants. My Mom went to a fabric store and bought bulks of white cotton sheets and cut it into 8 inches wide long strips and some 16 inch wide strips. For a female member, she put on a white cotton cone-shaped hat made of 8 ' cotton strips and pinned into a sharp triangular shape at the top. She would wrap a 16 inch wide strip around her waist, on top of her white pants or jeans. On the top of her white T-shirt, she puts two long burlap strips on her shoulders and tie all together with white strips around her waist. For a male member, a son has to put a white bandanna around his head. On the top of his white T-shirt, he put on two burlap strips, and tied a white cotton belt around his waist. The first born son needs to hold a whip and a bucket of water. Superstituously, the Hong Kong people believe this son helps his parent to bribe off those officials in hell and whip off those evil goblins or spirits, and eventually sends his mom off her earth life.

The family members have to kneel down for the whole time at one corner next to the coffin. Every time when a guest comes, they go to bow. The guest needs to follow the funeral director's instruction to make three bows and the members would return one bow.

At the altar, there are incenses and candles burning constantly, and one of the family members is in charge of burning golden paper money, paper cars, paper houses, and a very important document (visa) to go to the next world.

About an hour or so, the taoist monk or a Buddhist monk or nun will conduct a ritual ceremony. The coffin will be moved at the center of the room before the guest seats. The rite lasts for half an hour to a hour. The director will direct every guest and family member to walk around the coffin and say goodbye to the dead. The guests may leave then. At those funerals beside cremation, the family members will proceed to see the dead buried. Then, they need to take off their funeral clothings and bundle up in groups. Their lady – in-charge will collect them and save them until the 3-7 day ( the 21th day after death). At that day, those clothings will be burnt.

Each of the family member will be given a hair bow according to his or her relationship with the dead:-




white bow on her hair

black cloth pinned on his pocket.


blue yarn bow on her hair

black cloth pinned on his shirt

Grandchildren without same last name

green yarn bow on her hair

black cloth pinned on his shirt
They have to wear these ornaments for 49 days from the day of death. Then the family invites every guests to eat a vegetarian Buddhist Meal. Traditionally, the mourning for the dead is finished after ritual ceremony on the 49th day. Thus '7' was not a good symbol. Besides, Hong Kong traditional people do not white and black for any happy occasions. They consider bad lucks.

For Christian groups, they wear simple black shirts and pants. And during their mourning period, they pin a black cloth on the shirt pocket.

I never felt relaxed at my own grandparents' funeral because of the styles of rites and the atmosphere over there at that time. Now, I felt quite comfortable and peaceful at the mass of the last funeral I attended.

Recent actual experience of Taoist Ceremony at a funeral submitted by Mr. William Pau.

The funeral affairs of Mr.William Pau's auntie #2 on 22 & 23 Aug. 2002. Here is the actual description quoted from Mr. Pau(Hong Kong), who is a cousin of Connie Lacobie's father:

"I have arranged 'Pak Kum'(money to the dead's family) and wreaths arrangements from the dead's relatives and friends to be done in a proper Chinese traditional style with correct way of addressing and the senders' full names/relationship in Chinese except one in English.

My family attended the 'Guarding Night Ceremony' held in New World Funeral Parlor in Hung Hom in the evening of 22August. My wife and I stayed in the room until the completion of the ceremony at 10.00 pm.

Although there were not many persons coming, the atmosphere was not at all quiet. At the entrance of the room, there were 2 big lanterns with very large words demonstrating long life and specifying an age of 102. According to Mrs Yeung, the actual age of my #2 auntie should be 99 and after the traditional addition of 3 years (shelf, the heaven and the ground) her age was said to be 102.

After worshipping, they went to the inside cubicle where his #2 auntie was sleeping. She appeared to be very peaceful, serene, leisurely and unhurried. They are proud to have a relative to live for 100 years !

The ceremony was held in Taoism religion, not in Buddhism as most Chinese do. I have never seen such a Taoism ceremony before. At 7.00 pm. a team of 5 Taoist priests (over $20,000 for 1 evening service.) came and sat at a table singing their bible with their hands operating various kinds of loud musical instruments. At the beginning, I could not stand the very loud' Cha Cha' noise and I had to go to the toilet for a while. After returning, I felt the musical sounds seemed to be getting lower and I began to get used to it.

I saw that there were 5 performances altogether and in each performance, they all wore the same bright colorful full-length gowns with a head priest sitting in the middle facing the audience and the other 4 sitting beside the rectangular table. They sometimes stood up following the head priest to tour around the room. They usually rested for about 15 minutes after one performance had been completed. Then they all changed to another kind of beautiful gowns for the following performance. It was interesting to note that they wore 5 different types of gowns of different colors in 5 separate performances, each of which with a different head priest.

At about 9.00 pm, the last performance started and it was also the most remarkable one in the whole evening. The head priest of this performance seemed to be younger and stronger because a lot of physical motions and techniques were required. They all stood up, following the head priest dancing with their hands and legs, murmuring with inaudible words. Magically, the head priest threw out many balls of fire here and there when the whole room was suddenly turned to complete darkness. I was very frightened at that time fearing that the whole room would be on fire. Accordingly, they were dancing in circles, squares and triangles forming a pretty big fire embraced with the tiles they broke in the course of dancing. After they finished the show, balls of fires could still be seen on the carpet of the room. One of they tried to put off the fire by his feet. Instantly, a cleaner in proper uniform came to remove the ashes on the carpet.

In the former sitting place of the head priest, a very high circular sitting place decorated with many lotus flowers was formed. The head priest who threw out balls of fire climbed up to sit there solemnly with both legs crossed and hands worshipping similar to the Buddha we saw in a temple. For quite a long time, he demonstrated his' finger dance' in circles somewhat like the female dancers we saw in Thai.

When it was about 9:30 pm., the leader asked each of us to help bring the bulky paper items (bridges, gardens houses, attendants, car, big bundles of gold, and any other things suitable to be used in the future) to the top of the building for presenting by burning in a very huge oven. However, as soon as we reached to the roof, we had to wait for our turn because another family was using the big oven. The oven was as big as a room with one side open so that everyone could see how it burned in the inside. After about 20 minutes, we were asked to line up and call her loudly in our usual way of addressing. Then they began to throw our bulky paper items into the oven with their mighty might. Seeing their action, I discovered that they were also afraid of the terrible fire in the oven. From time to time we heard the great sound of the blowing wind or the burning sound. Could it be a signal of the busy traffic from the issuing and receiving? As each of us had a complete sight of the burning, no one dared to look around to see the darkness other than the fire in this very moment. After the burning had been completed, the leader told us that everything had been received safe and sound. Do you believe that the 15 minutes' burning of paper items costing at least several thousands dollars would really reach to the hands of the addressee? Nevertheless, that was the heartfelt sign of divine love from the younger generation who would feel better whilst walking in the long, long road of mankind ahead!

A more formal ceremony was held in the following day at 10.30 am. I found that ceremony was the same as most Chinese do except Christians. After the ceremony, My wife and I accompanied them to Wo Hop Shek. It was said that the human ash would later be buried with her husband in Chai Wan. We departed after taking lunch with them."

End of Quote

Thank you, Mr. Pau(Hong Kong) for submitting this good account of ceremony.

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