Wednesday, August 10, 2011

CHINESE OBSEQUIES.It may say so without appearing over anxious to advertise my Irish ancestry, the most important event in a Chinaman's life is hia funeral. A Chinese crowd is the culmination of human noise ; and the Chinese are never so noisy as at a funeral. They have hearty appetites at all times, but they never eat so much as they do at a funeral feast. When I first lived in China I used to find it almost impossible to % distinguish between a funeral procession and a marriage procession. In the centre of one the' coffined corpse is borne on the shoulders of men. In the centre of the other Bimilar men bear on their shoulders the bride, who is in an enclosed sedan chair, and she is followed by her bridesmaids. But to the casual observer the two endß of the two processions are; quite alike in every other respect. Tom-toms, red-clothed coolies carrying roasted pigs and other dainties, smaller coolies carrying cheap paper-ornaments of a Mongolian theatrical type— these are the invariable elements of both processions. THX HEATHSN CHINESE. - The Chinese are to-day the most unique, the most ancient and the most miaunderstood people on the earth, I say the moat ancient because they axe the least changed from what they were long centuries ago. The least changed They are not changed at all. The China of to-day is the China Marco Polo knew. A few of us have been in China. lam not speaking of the missionaries; I regard them as a people apart. "What have we gained in China ? A strange experience (to me a pleasant one), a pound of perfumed tea, and a bale of flowered for both of which we have paid right handsomely. We have been treated in the main politely, but sooner or later most of us are bowed out of China, if not by the Emperor, why then by the climate. The Chinese have at least three religions, Confucianism, Buddhism" and Toaism. But the -funeral rites of the three sects are identical; There are several reasons for this. The three religions are muoh alike, and are all largely founded upon Indian Buddhism. Moreover, religion is a very Second-class affair on China. The priests of two. sects often live together in the chummiest way, Filial devotion is the seal religion of China. All, China is one huge family, and the Emperor is the Great Father." (By the way, Great Father is what the North American Indians call, God. And the Chinese consider their Emperor a god. How we human atoms ring, our petty changes- on a few poor thoughts !) There ii one more reason •why; all Chinese funerals.,aie greatlyalike. China U a land of ceremonials, and the smallest details of those ceremonials are prescribed by the "Leke,^, or Book of Bites* To disobey the least role of this great national: manual is a crime and a severely punished one. In two respeots only does one Chinese funeral differ from another. The first is in the amount of . money spent, jand the .second is in the period after death at which burial takes plaCe. THB DBAD CHINKS. The first ambition of every Chinaman is to have a splendid coffin. A poor Chinaman will half starve himself -and his family forbears that he may daily hoard a few cash" towards the sum' needed fop the purchase oB the coveted casket. When the coffin is really bought it is brought home 'witfi t great ceremony. It is given the plaoe of honour in the .house, and is regarded as the most .valuable piece of furniture in the establishment. Among the' poorer daises it is customary to buy a very thick coffin. No self-respecting Chinese family — and the-Chineße are the moat selfrrespecting of all the nations— will bury a parent until they can do it with more or leas Mongolian magnificence^ Hence, in China, death by do means implies immediate. burial. When a Chinaman dies, hia neighbours come in and help the. women of the family to make the shroud. body is put in its coffin. Then the funeral ceremonies begin, if there is money enough. If there is not, the coffin is put back > in: ita place of honour until -the family finances look up. The day of the death, or the. day after, thejrelatives not living in the house, and the friends pay the last duties of respect to the deceased. When the visitors arrive they are Bhown. into a room in which are all the women and children of the establishment. These latter set up a dismal howl in which the visitors join, or to which they, listen sympathetically. When the tympanum of even a Chinese ear begins to ache the guests are ushered into another apartment where the men of the house give them tea and refreshment. The refreshment varies according to the means of the family ; in the house of the rich it is a dinner. After the visitors have drunk and eaten they are bowed out by one of the kinsmen of the dead. : , The dinner of Chineae affluence, where ever, why ever it is served, consists of five course meal, very rich, thick soup; 2, salad. and meat ; 3, birds' nests j sharks' fins, and other very nourishing dishes; 4, etewe ; 5, fruits and sweetmeats. The first four courses, ase eaten with chopsticks. The last course is eaten with the. fingers— and that ia the way that I believe .fruit always shonld be eaten; Everjj&ing in ; the first four courses is seryefl superlatively hot. Unless a China. mantis starving he will npt eat cooked food unless it is bubbling hot;. I except sweetmeats. And yet he eats the most incredible quantities of ice. Wine is served with all the courses— served hot. It is , not intoxicating, and has, to my palate, a very pleasant taste. I used to dine in America with some people who were just a bit mad on the temperance question. One day they gave me unfermented wine; it was an awful moment. But the Chinese ..dinner giver knows the secret of keeping his guest free from the possible ill-effects of alcohol without making himself ridiculous. At a correct Chinese dinner, the women look on from behind a trellis-work. The Chinese hold tbatrtherseairof the4iuman understaHtl&ig is the stomach. A jtelfcconducted Chinese funeral is the,most gorgeous sight «n Asia*. seem. to us a little tineelly, but that' is a' mere matter of taste. .! And I —who- make bold to like the Chinese— cannot claim that they have a superabundance of taste. - ; IK HABCHB IUNBBBI. At the front of the funeral procession walk the noisy musicless musicians. , Then •come men (they may be friends, they may be coolies) bearing the insigoia of the dignity of the dead, if he had any. Next walk more men, cairying figures of animals, idols, umbrellas, and blue and white streamers. After them come men carrying pans of perfume. Just before the coffin walk bonzes, Chinese . priests. Over the coffin af canopy is usually carried. The casket is borne by about a score of men. •Imaediatete^behjnjL the.. coffin walk the children oitfie" deceasedT The eldest son -comes first. He is dressed in canvas, and leans- heavily upon a stout stick. He is supposed to be too exhausted by grief and faaQng to walk without the aid of this staff. The other children and relatives follow this chief mourner. They are clothed in white linen garments— white is the mourning colour of the Danes, of the Burmese, and of the Chinese. The women are carried in chairs in the Chinese .f uaeral procespiont They sob and wail at intervals and in unison: COM2! TO DUST. When the buryirig-place is reached the bonzes begin chanting a mass for the dead, and the coffin it put into the tomb.

When the coffin is laid in its final position, a large oblong white marble table is placed before the tomb. . Ou the middle of it is set a censer and two vases and two candlesticks, all of as exquisite workmanship as possible. Then they have a paper cremation I Paper figures of men, horeea, garments, and a score of other things are burned. They are supposed to undergo a material resurrection, and to be useful to the dead in the Chinese heaven. The tomb is sealed up or closed, and an entertainment concludes the ceremony at the grave. The forms of Chinese tombs vary somewhat according to the province in which they are built, and very much according to the means of the relative who undertakes the expense. With the very poor the coffin is placed upon the ground, earth and lime are packed about it, and a rude grave is formed. With the rich a vault is built, in the form of a horßeshoe. If the dead wbb of note or position the decorations of the grave and of the coffin are very elaborate. There are a thousand interesting things to be said about Chinese mourning, about the ceremonies commemorative of the dead, and about the funerals of the Chinese Royal family ; but they cannot be put into a paragraph, or into a column, so I leave them. Star , Issue 4971, 8 June 1894, Page 1

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