A Funeral in China

Dark, worn, and unpainted, the gray concrete stairway led to the two-room apartment on the third floor.  Paper wreaths hung on the walls and doors.  We sat on the small bed a few minutes—there were no chairs except the one on which the widow sat.  Afterwards, we followed the family to a storage type shed at the rear of a hospital.  The wintry wind made the 30-degree weather colder.  Inside the crude and unheated morgue-like shed, twelve compartments held bodies.

In China, the funeral must take place within three days, preferably in one because there is no embalming.  Men put on white gloves and pulled the body out.  The son and daughter, white cloth draped over their head and upper body and tied at the waist, carried their father’s 8” x “10 picture, framed and edged with black crepe paper.

The son took a wad of cotton and touched the head of his father (don’t worry about the family), his hands (son would take care) and feet (have peaceful and easy journey).  The widow and daughter, unable to stand, weeping and wailing were dragged in to see the body before it was placed in a cardboard coffin.  A yellow cloth covered the body and it was placed into a waiting vehicle.  All of this was accompanied by much weeping and uncontrollable mourning.

Before the hearse left, the son, daughter, and other relatives got on their knees before a stone pot, 14”-18” in diameter.  Paper was placed in the pot and fire set to it (so he could have money on his journey).  As the fire died, the son raised the pot above his head, slammed it to the ground, shattering the pot to pieces, and yelled, “Zai jian Baba!” (Goodbye father!).

The crematorium (four large buildings) was about 15 miles away.  As we approached, the street is lined with people selling paper strips and gold and silver paper bags.  These are literally called “hell bank notes” and supposedly furnish money to those who have died.  Outside, on the porch of the crematory, a board lists prices for various furnaces.  Prices are determined by furnace temperature.  The lowest is 250 yuan ($31 US) and the highest, 2500 yuan ($312 US).

We wait outside until a man shouts for us to come in.  People file in a counterclockwise motion around the body that lies on a wheeled gurney in a U shaped area of plastic flowers.  His picture and name are projected on the wall by a computer display.  All of us walk around and bow, then shake hands with family members who bow at each handshake.

A man yells, “Bow three times to your father!”—Then, he says, “Leave!”  The picture on the wall immediately changes to an older lady for the next “service.”  The whole thing took about ten minutes.  They wheeled the body out before we were out of the room, and wheeled the other body in for the next—this goes on all day from 8am to 6pm, every day.

Despair, spiritual darkness, and no hope marks the whole experience.  Our Chinese friend with us, a believer, wept for their spiritual blindness, and said, “I am so glad I know Jesus Christ as my Saviour.  My people need to hear about Jesus.”  We need to get the gospel to those in China who have no hope.

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 21:3

To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.