Thursday, February 07, 2013


A movement is at present on foot among the Chinese-population of this Colony so singular in its nature as to be worthy of some remark. This is nothing less than a wholesale exhumation of deceased Chinamen who have died and found burial in New Zealand, with a view of transmitting the bodies back to their native land. If the nature of this undertaking is singular it will be readily understood that its details are not only singular but slightly repugnant to European ideas. It is difficult to arrive at a very accurate understanding as to the custom which compels the Chinese to carry out such an expensive and unpleasant piece of work, but it may fairly be assumed that it is partly done out of respect to social and partly to religious observances. At any rate, it appears to be a recognised and very important part of a Chinaman's creed that his dead body, or those of his friends and kindred, must not be allowed to repose in a strange sepulchre longer than is absolutely necessary. To effect the required translation, societies exist both in China anl in this Colony, whose object it is to raise the funds needful for a general or partial resurrection. In this case the resurrection is partial only, and is confined to natives of Pon-Yu, a district in the province of Canton. The inhabitants of this district are either wealthier or more energetic than their neighbours, and they are first in the field with the very considerable sum requisite to disinter and translate the bones of their deceased friends. As a consequence the Society here has lost no time in bestirring itself to carry out the proposed operations. An accurate record has been kept of the date of death and place of burial of Celestials belonging to each separate province, and their friends as a rule know exactly where to put their hand upon such of the remains as may have resisted the touch of time. The matter has been placed in the hands of a solicitor, and permission obtained in due form from the City Council to disinter those corpses which had found a resting-place in either of the Dunedin cemeteries. Many of the original inhabitants of Pon-Yu, however, have wandered far afield, and these it has- been necessary to track to the place of their decease, and similar permission for disinterment has been obtained from the local authorities. Thus, from almost the length and breadth of the Colony the defunct Pan-Yuites have been and are still being slowly gathered in at the cost of much expense and much labour, too unsavoury to dwell upon. {From Lawrence, Waikaia, and a number of country districts we hear that the Chinese resurrectionists are diligently at work. It is a general custom among the people to place certain objects in the coffins with their deceased friends, and as each fresh assortment of human remains is brought to light, an eager and almost affectionate process of identification takes place. The bodies are then placed in fresh coffins or boxes (as circumstances may require), and forwarded to a place which has been prepared for their reception pending shipment to China. The locale of this novel kind of mausoleum is the Lower Kaikorai, not very far from Burnside, and a goodly number of Chinese corpses are now stacked there in their coffins, until a special vessel which the Society will charter for the purpose is ready to take them on board. As may naturally be exp_ected,some difficulty has attended the prosecution of these operations, .and it is to to be feared that in some cases mistakes may even have occurred. The possibility of such a contretemps is especially suggested by the case of one Ah Chook, whose remains, if report speaks truly, were utilised for certain anatomical purposes at the University here. The fact of the University being mentioned as his last resting-place, however, fortunately suggested no ideas but those of ordinary burial to the minds of the resurrectionists, and to satisfy their natural anxiety the following: rather amusing letter was ad dressed to the authorities by a well-known solicitor whose services were retained in the matter:— The olraond-eycd bcatct of this epistle has undertaken to achieve the translation of sundry defunct kinsmen to tho happy land of Pon-Yu, provinco of Canton. Si me slumbered in the Northern and some in the Southern Cemetery, but they have all been raised," and now lie (strongly bound in teak) awaiting their departure per sailing ship But one of tho band i< missing, and hi3 brethren cannot leave him to languish alone in the land of the barbarian. It ia fondly fancied that he is "bellied" at tho University, but I more than suspect that his mortal remains h»v9 been sacrificed on the altar of science. He was known in tho dayß of his flesh as Ah Chook and laboured in his vocation as n peripatetic vendor of vegetables, humble but happy, with a pronounced taste lor opium and petty larceny. But de mortuis, &c. He is now a coppercoloured shade, haunting the purlieus of the University a"d the adjacent sewer in a fruitless search for tho disjecta, or rather the dissccta membra, of his whilom seif. Pray hand over to bearer as much of tho late Mr Chook as is still on tho premises, ivnd for mercy's sake main Win the piouß fiction of tho hollial" at the U.iversity. p.S.—I may add that the boneg arc essentials, and further, that the average Chinaman is not an anatomist. Verb. sap. Whether or no the seekers in this instance have been pnvided with any bones answering to their ideas of their deceased friend we are not in a position to say, but theabove affords an example of some of the difficulties with which the indefatigable Celestials have had to contend. From the Dunedin cemetries alono some 38 bodies have been exhumed, and this number is largely increased by the numerous arrivals from the country, and will yet receive considerable further additions. It maybe mentioned that whilst the more educated of the Chineso are influenced doubtless in this m&ttor only by religious or social prejudices, auloug the ignorant classes a vast amoUnt of superstition ovidontly exists upon the subject. Somo of tho hitter oA'en express the firm belief that tho Corpses will bo reanimated on their arrival in China, and, probably to inako provision for this contingency; nlnco hi tho coffin food, a supply of opium, a bottle.of gin, and other articles equally necessary and desirable for a Chinaman rcdiv'ivuii. Otago Daily Times , Issue 6548, 8 February 1883, Page 3

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