A Chinese Funeral 1

Having participated in a number of Chinese funeral and being a classic kaypoh, let me try to pin down the various practices in a Chinese Funeral. A lot of practices have changed and evolved in line with the time. Will spread this over a few posts. Please correct me if I get some of the facts wrong.

In Singapore, there are 2 type of Chinese funeral. One is the purely Buddhist funeral where the rituals are more simple and Buddhist monks conduct the prayers.  In strict traditional Buddhist funeral, there is no burning of joss paper or  金纸 ‘gold paper’ or paper mache items. Purely Buddhist funeral are rare in Singapore. What is more common is the other type of Chinese funeral – which is a mixture of Buddhist and Chinese ancestral worship rites all designed to send off the deceased in the best and ‘safest’ manner possible

Let’s start from the time a person pass away. After collecting the deceased from the mortuary, the deceased is  taken directly to the undertaker’s premises where it is embalmed and dress up.  In the not too distant past, the dress of choice was the traditional Chinese skull hat and traditional Chinese robe but nowadays it is in his/her favourite cloth or in the case of a Buddhist follower, the black robe. Previously all this was done at the deceased’s place or the location of the wake but the practice of embalming on site has now been banned for health and hygiene reasons. There is actually no real need to embalming the body but in this tropical heat, the body will decompose rapidly without the embalming. A body that is embalmed can have an open casket – one that is not embalmed must have the casket closed. Most family of the deceased will choose the former so that friends and relatives paying respect can have a last look at the deceased. Unlike Western funeral, only the face portion of the casket is open and covered with a piece of glass. There is no touching or kissing of the deceased allowed. In the past when embalming was not so common, the casket was closed and covered with a beautiful robe.

A closed casket

One other thing is that joss paper are usually placed in the casket together with the deceased. This is to provide money for the deceased to spend in the nether life.

Speaking of casket, in the past, the casket was this humongous size wooden coffin carved from a full tree and weighs a ton. Nowadays, it is a more simplified affair of pine wood or even compressed wood. The main reason for the switch is apart from the cost difference, the traditional coffin cannot fit into the furnace at the Crematorium and can only be used for burial and in land scarce Singapore, cremation is the way to go!

Traditional coffin at a casket company
A modern casket


Coming back to the deceased.  When the undertaker brings the body back to the residence or place for the funeral wake (usually the ‘void deck’ or multi-purpose hall of the HDB flats, the family of the deceased will kneel at a prominent point of entry and called out to the deceased to ‘come home’. This is to guide the spirit of the deceased to its new resting place.

The body is laid on a cot bed first and the family takes turn to feed the deceased with grain of cooked rice. This is placed in the deceased’s mouth by the family. The practice is to make sure that the deceased is full and not hungry before he/she embarks on the journey. If I remember correctly, finally a tiny pearl is placed in the deceased mouth to ensure his/her prosperity.  After this is done, the body is put into the coffin. Everybody present has to look away as it is believe that looking at this is bad luck and who knows – maybe the spirit of the living will follow the spirit of the dead!

After this is done, the funeral ceremony or wake proper will begin……….