Have you heard about the Dallas Chinese Community Center’s Asian American Culture Festival this Saturday, April 23? Both Plano and Richardson, Texas have significant ethnic Chinese communities, and we are grateful for and proud of their presence in our community. If you have time this weekend, feel free to visitDFW’s China Town in Richardson for the celebration. Martin Oaks would like to celebrate China’s culture and history in this continuation of our Cremation in History series.
The use of cremation in China, just as in many other areas worldwide, goes back to the Neolithic or New Stone Age. At that time, cremation was stigmatized and primarily used by ethnic minorities and religious groups. However, cremation’s popularity increased over time, beginning during the Tang period and increasing throughout the Five Dynasties and Song periods. Increased interaction with northern ethnic groups, the introduction of Buddhism to China, and the increasing convenience of cremation during periods of warfare and political upheaval are the three main influences on cremation in China during these periods that historians agree on. Some historians also suggest that an increase in body burning of both the living and the dead for other reasons, such as disease control, may have helped normalize the concept and familiarity of cremation in the area as well.
Modern Chinese viewpoints on death, funerals and cremation are influenced by many different cultural sources, such as Buddhism from India, Confucianism, and Taoism originating in China, local folk tradition, ancient ancestor worship and later Communist influences. These viewpoints and traditions are complex, and differ depending on region and even from family to family. Traditionally, in Chinese culture, it was critical for the deceased to be buried. The Mao era and the rise of Communism dismissed this attitude in favor of embracing cremation, which was viewed as more efficient, as opposed to burials which used up valuable wood for coffins and farm land for interment. During this period, simple funeral customs were encouraged, although now lavish and extravagant celebrations have been regaining popularity.
Death and funerary customs in modern China are complex and rich with cultural tradition. Significant details include gifts for the dead: visitors and well-wishers offer items made of paper to the deceased, then burn them as a way to send those gifts to the other side. These paper items can be funerary money, paper cars, paper animals, paper cell phones, paper luxury homes – any item which might have been enjoyed could also be enjoyed in death.
A great deal of business and entertainment in China today revolves around funerary celebrationsA 20th-century scholar named Lin Yutnag even said once that he couldn’t tell the difference between funerals and weddings without seeing either the bride or the coffin. Once the funeral celebrations are over. Chinese families traditionally keep a shrine in remembrance of their deceased loved ones. Clan identity is still highly important in Chinese culture and honoring the dead is a large part of that. Follow this link for more details on Chinese funerary traditions.