China Burial Traditions

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Exhumation was an important burial practice among overseas Chinese and has been documented. When a Chinese man died, the body was (in most cases) eventually shipped back to China. Relatives would take up the bones and boil them before they were sent off on their long journey.

The Chinese believed that when the flesh decomposed the devil was driven out. It was customary for them to leave dishes of food on the graves, and also numerous small confetti-like papers with small holes in them, the idea being that through these the devil could not get to the body of the deceased, but would become confused if he attempted to find his way among all the supposed obstructions.

"The most common singular feature of overseas Chinese cemeteries and of the Chinese section of host community cemeteries is the "burner" (sometimes erroneously called "oven"). These brick or masonry structures, often over 7 feet tall (approximately 2.1 m), serve as a safe place for the ritualized burning of spiritual tributes.

"These paper and cardboard facsimiles of money, clothing, possessions, and houses, for example, are to serve the deceased in the afterlife. Burning these simulacra passes them to the spirit realm.

"The majority of more than 75 burners appear to have been originally constructed between 1880 and 1920. Their size and construction suggest that they were community efforts, funded by the name or clan association that maintained Chinese customs and traditions. There is very little documentation available on the dates of these structures or on the person or persons who built them."[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Excerpt from University of Idaho Special Collections, compiled by Terry Abraham.