The traditional calendar says November 10 was the day for sending your great-grandparents warm woolies to wear during winter in the spirit world. To many Tianjinren (Tianjin people), burning piles of paper clothing and spirit money on the street corner that evening would be like Westerners taking flowers to the cemetery on Memorial Day, hoping that their departed loved one could really smell them. While tending their little bonfires, locals will say deceased parents and ancestor’s names and invoke their protection and blessing.
In Tianjin, only those with Hui ethnicity can choose burial rather than cremation. By tradition, the funeral is held three days after death. The departed are often dressed in a high-collared, long-sleeved, red or yellow silk mourning gown. Tianjinren often bring the body home the night before so neighbors and friends can gather to support the family in an all-night farewell vigil. The wake begins and ends with firecrackers to ward off inhospitable spirits. Scattering paper money ensures the departing soul a generous welcome to the next world. These customs, especially the live bands leading mourners in procession through the streets, are now officially discouraged. Fresh flower arrangements have largely replaced paper wreaths but you may still glimpse a paper horse or cow, representing the departed man or woman, or paper children portraying future caregivers.
A rental coach and driver transport the family to and from the government-sponsored mortuaries. State employees don white lab coats over their navy suits and lead mourners in bowing before the deceased three times before the cremation. Families may add vehicles to the funeral procession and expand this committal ceremony according to their beliefs and budget. After cremation, most Tianjinren offer food and incense before their loved one’s photo for three days, then move the box of ashes to a memorial park in the suburbs. Dongli boasts a memorial park with over 115,000 square meters of mausoleum. 200 employees handle over13, 000 cremations every year and maintain thousands of trees and plots.
Ancient Chinese history includes City Protectors who recorded each citizen’s deeds in a book. When a person died, this god would report to the King of the Underworld. In the northern countryside, look for pyramid-shaped, earthen mounds near the edges of fields. Southern farmers enshrine tombs on hillside terraces. Although graves are no longer permitted, it is still important for Tianjinren to visit cemeteries and memorial parks on April’s Pure Brightness Tomb Sweeping Festival.
SIDEBAR:If a friend or neighbor passes away, you can offer condolences like this: 我真遗憾。请你节哀，多保重。Wo3 zhen1 yi2 han4. Qing3 ni3 jie2ai1, duo1 bao3 zhong4