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FuneralCustominDawu

Before liberation, funeral of rich, powerful and official people in the countryside and city was over-elaborate, with strong feudalistic superstition color. Though funeral arrangement of civilians is simple, the funeral custom is passed down and extremely tedious.

Immediately before death Relatives shall guard beside the bed on the deathbed if the patient is in danger, known as “paying last respects”. A beam shall be placed in hands of the dead at the death time. Afterwards, ask the person making funeral arrangements to wash and dress for the dead (number of dead clothes shall be even instead of odd, which means complete sons and daughters in the future), tie white lines in the waist (one each age), wear “dead cap” in head, “dead shoes” in feet (7 needles for front half sole and 8 for rear half sole, which means the dead will not be afraid when meeting Yama), and the bed shall be on one side of the central room (male left and female right). Remove grass on bed of the dead outside to burn out (in Pengdian, Qiaodian and other places, it is to burn out all grasses on bed if the parents die successively, or half grass if one parent dies. During burning, children shall step on the grass and ask the old to cross it). Three to five sheets of superstition papers shall be bundled up on tree trunk at the gate, known as setting up “terrace”. Burn out the papers three days after death.

  

Encoffinning Put the corpse in a coffin after relatives of the dead getting together, also known as “entering the bier”. At this moment, the dead shall be carried to the chair in the center of the central room (with a stick in hands, a white line attached to the stick leading to outside room. The stick bottom is placed in the earthen pot in front of the dead, the other hand holding rice and vegetable roll, which means to prevent dogs on the way to the hell). Burn “arising papers”, (arising paper bag made of white cloth, filled with 7jin or 9jin 4liang of papers), which means tolls of the dead. Stack up ash, pave ghost money (i.e., superstition paper) inside the coffin, and carry the corpse to the coffin (head of the dead is on 3 tiles, and rice and vegetable roll and cattail leaf fan are held in hands of the dead). After encoffinning, burn the eternal fire under the coffin, Zuotou fire in front of the coffin, set the censer table, and offer sacrificial offerings. Relative will guard the coffin day and night, and accompany the crying personnel to burn incense and papers, and kneel down in prayer. Cover the coffin, nail, and seal 3 days after encoffinning.

  

Taoist rites Before liberation, Taoist priest would be asked to do “religious rites” after a person dies. Number of days to do religious rites depends on home conditions, but all religious rites regardless of the duration are collectively referred to as “Doing good deed”. During the period, house of the dead is equipped with memorial tablets, elegiac couplet and other things to ask celebrities and scholars to recite the funeral oration, and relatives put on mourning apparel to beat the head on the floor and do religious rites. Civilians mostly select one religious rite when conducting a funeral, especially the poor, who only makes the spirit tablet and is unable to do “religious rites”.

Funeral and interment On the day before funeral and interment, relatives and friends prepare incense, paper, candle, large elegiac scroll, and firecrackers to grieve over the death. Relatives of the dead dig a well (grave) in graveyard selected by the Taoist priest. During funeral processing, a plow harrow is placed under the coffin (said to prevent ghost haunting) and food is placed beside the coffin. Relatives will eat the food with hands after making obeisance and performing the rites in front of the coffin, which means later generations will not worry about there being no food to eat. A big cock is placed on head of the coffin to avoid evil spirits. Firecrackers are set off along the way; the eldest son wears the mourning, holds the spirit tablet, and leads the way, and all the kinsmen and kinswomen head for the graveyard with the coffin. When it is time to bury, sacrificial offerings are displayed in front of the coffin, and ghost money is burned to sacrifice the departed soul. The Taoist priest decides the direction with compass before burying, and the dutiful son kneels on the coffin while the Taoist priest throwing rice and reading words to wish the house of mourning good luck and prosperous.


Earth backing Three days after the funeral and interment, relatives of the dead gather in front of the grave to burn grass-made papers to sacrifice and earth up the grave, known as “earth backing”.

  

In old times, the rich men attach importance to “geomancy”, and believe that riches and honor will last forever if “geomancy” of the ancestral grave is good. If “geomantic land” is not obtained yet, the coffin will be placed in the field and stored in a house temporarily. The poor may also place the coffin in a house temporarily because there is no money to bury. The house has disappeared after liberation.


It is said that the dead will meet the Yama every seven days. The Taoist priest will prepare a list to be conducted by the offspring. All the kinsmen and kinswomen shall offer ghost money. The dutiful son shall not have a haircut before the specified date and shall burn the hair together with the ghost money (it is told that dutiful sons in ancient times attached great importance to mourning and were not in the mood for washing and dressing, so they had disheveled hair and dirty face, which subsequently evolved into keeping hair until the specified date). On the specified day, the married daughter will offer a box (made of colored papers) to place spirit tablets of the dead parents inside. It will be burned down 3 years after the day, which is deemed to be superstition, and abolished after liberation. A few places restored the custom gradually since 1980s.  

  

Incense It is to burn the license for the dead on the second day of the first lunar month of next year (the first day in places originally governed by Xiaogan and Luoshan). All the kinsmen and kinswomen will carry incense papers and candles before the New Year to make offerings. They shall head to keep vigil beside the coffin at that time, hold a memorial ceremony in front of the coffin at midnight (by day in places such as Fangfan), and set fire scene outside finally.   

 

Spirits removal The secondary funeral is 1 year after the date of death, primary funeral 2 years after death, and taking off the mourning dress is 3 years after death. Relatives and friends all prepare to offer sacrifices. During the period of taking off mourning dress, all related to the dead are burned, known as “spirits removal”. At that time, a Taoist priest will be invited to do “religious rites”, and relatives will wear mourning apparel. After spirits removal, mourning period of offspring is over, and red couplets may be pasted during the Spring Festival (the family will paste white couplets in the first year, yellow in the second year, and green in the third year).

 

After liberation, funeral and superstitious activities gradually disappeared, and the bad custom of doing Taoist rites is basically abolished. Since 1960s, no paper offerings are burned in case of death, but relatives will present elegiac couplets and wreath to hold a memorial meeting and show their sad memories. Funeral arrangements of civil servants are simpler. Only the unit will hold a memorial meeting and cremate the remains. In villages, though the government advocates cremation, inhumation is still followed due to old force of habit and some restrictions.


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