If some of you, by case will see many flowers composed in the way we do when somebody dies, please do not be mistaken. It is the way the Asians advertise some kind of promotion, opening or just new special thing to buy.
Celebration of burial has here different meanings and even colors. The people dress in white, like monks or hospital workers, they do not use flowers but white and yellow confetti in the form of circle with the whole in the center. The wind is taking them like butterflies and the entire road to cemetery is full of such decoration.
The grave is similar like round form pyramid made from the ground, but it is not the place for make prayers. They pray home. They have small wooden desk with the name of death person and giving rise and incense they talk to the soul of death person asking mercies like we ask God. It maybe similar to our prayers about intercession of Holy Ones, but the church is never hurry and permits us to pray non proclaimed Saints only ones a Year in November. Chinese may do it daily and it as ever big missionary problem. Some of missionary like Jesuits accepted cult of ancestors, other like Dominicans blamed them for making exceptions unofficial orthodox faith.
The duty of praying for soul of death, is under control of the older son, or if he is rich on the monk who is paid to do so. People do not make verbal consolations. During burial ceremony or anniversary the close family meet together, to have memorial supper and everybody coming on the feast is bowing at the front of memorial desk or photo of death person. The older son is getting from them envelops with money.
I was present on such anniversary in Hebei. It was not exactly so as I described. The family was very catholic and the older son was a Catholic Priest from Hebei Province. It is the most Catholic aerie in China.
1. Buddhist burials
I saw in TV a movie about some monastery in the mountains which has cemetery as monastic garden with clay containers. The death monks are enveloped in bandages and paper so that you may see his had if you wish to have a look inside. Some of bodies do not corrupt and their hairs still grow. Faces look like they may sleep.
Such monk is becoming famous and his friends make memories about his words and doings. Such is a Buddhist beatification.
2. Taoist Eschatology
During my visit in Taoist shrine I realized that many of statements about future life were made according the ones doings. The killers, bad bureaucrats and priests will be punished in eternal life and perhaps some of them will share the destiny of animals not humans because of their sins. All this kind of ideas expressed in about 1000 statues.
It was eschatology in images.
3. Catholic "Exequias"
Another time it happen to me to be present on catholic prayer for the death in East Church (st. Joseph) in Beijing.
The present people obtained at the beginning of the Mass small picture with the name and date of death some person
The priests were dressed in violet color "ornats" and the Mass was not different as others. Just in the end the priest did not bless the people but came to the entrance of the church. There was improvised podium with photo of death man and small clay container with cremated remains of his body. The prayer with incense was during about 10 minutes and afterwards priest blessing for everybody.
I asked to be sure is everybody have to be cremated and priest explained kindly that in the villages people make burials like in Europe, but in the cities the state do not permit make burials other way than after cremation.
4. European cemetery
The village cemetery like in Europe I met in Yun Tai Hill near the small Xian Xian city which is the oldest diocesan center in Hebei Province: exactly 150 years... It is 300 km south of Beijing.
In the past here was diocesan retreat center. It is why so big church and so many buildings were built in very small village. Actually the church and buildings also very small peace of old territory of cemetery the state returned to the church and the Bishop is doing efforts to restore old tradition of the place. Most of European missionary priests were buried here and some thousands of other Catholics, but in Cultural Revolution time everything was destroyed and the vegetable garden are still there.
To keep memory of old cemetery there is symbolic Stella in memory of former missionary people and many new burials of the priests which after being in prison soon died as result of sickness and age. Mostly they were Chinese Jesuits. Two burials contained bodies of Chinese local Bishops, one Benedictine monk and some diocesan priests.
5. "Grand-Father Jesuit"
I was visiting the cemetery with priest Zhao and 2 seminarians. One of them came to me and showing one of graves he explained: it is my grand-father... "Grand-father?" I asked very surprised. "Grand-father's brother" said boy without shame. I understood again the way Chinese people talk about relatives. They may call sister "gunia" totally unknown person. With same sense we may find in the Gospel talking about "Jesus Brothers".
It was very touching me that Chinese Catholics in Hebei have many generations of heroes and do not forget about them.
6. Onion plant on cemetery...
As a boy I was trying to eat some berries on cemetery and I was ashamed by elderly people telling me that it looks like cannibalism. In fact I met mutual habit in communist countries like Russia and China to use cemeteries like simple land good for planting or even building houses. I know many stories about people living in such buildings on territory of cemetery. The souls appear and disturb the people living there. I am also curious these poor people eating onion and other vegetables from Yun Tai Hill cemetery...
7. Old relic
The first Chinese bishop in Xian Xian was well educated and very saint man Francis Zhao. He does many good doings and projects for his diocese until his arrest in 50-ties last century. He was about 70 years old and working in the concentration camp was for him very hard. He died in the prison and was buried in unknown place. Some of prison workers, who was unbeliever realized that the man was unordinary person and after Cultural Revolution, he insisted that priests have to come and find the place for exhumation. After some decades of years he still remembered the place and nobody expected that the burial may be found. It was like miracle all that story so the burial in Yun tai Hill was really historical event for diocese and the body of first Chinese bishop was treated as relic.
8. Corn River
I was very excited waiting for the anniversary meeting in priests Zhao village. During the travel I got impression I am not in China but Africa. The roads were worse and worse and traveling was not easy because villagers were putting some whit especially corn grains to became sec. I realized that all the drivers are very familiar with that strange picture and slowly traveling they were trying not disturbing the effort of farmers.
The priest was working in parish Ho Jiang 50 km north of Xian Xian, his native village was another 40 km south of Xian Xian. In Xian Xian we mad a stop to take some medicines to the village Da Lu Dao.
9. The village "church" clinic
Before going to the cemetery at first we were visiting the parish clinic in Da Lu Dao. The sister dressed in civil dressing was the chief of the clinic. Officially church has no right to rule some social institutions but in such forgotten places nobody cares and everybody happy that some people wish to care about sick and elderly people.
Sister was very happy and when she get medicines she gave us many fruits and other vegetables as symbol of gratitude.
Hospital was very poor. Perhaps 10 rooms each for two persons. No current water and no toilets in the building only traditional in the garden. Very few instruments were in the clinic: instruments for injections and blood pressure. The most valuable instrument was sister's hands and her deep and friendly smile. Even not dressed in monastic habit, even Asiatic face not disturbed recognize in her Catholic nun.
I was not asking about doctors because I realized for myself, perhaps they have some Dae Fu (Chinese medicine doctor), who is working like other villagers in the farm and free time spend with sick people.
Perhaps in urgent cases they call to Xian Xian. Perhaps the same story happened to the father of poor priest. His father was only 50 years old when he died and the boy was still in Seminary. He died because of lever cancer.
10. Procession to "the cimetery"
At first the priest showed me the church, just troo the window of the car. It is closed, so we have to find the key of the entrance and will visit later, he explained. The church was small size like all the village buildings. The people is afraid that the shadow of building may disturb their plant.
Also like all the buildings the church was all in the dust from the road which here in the middle of the village has no asphalt. The way to cemetery was such quality that the car cannot move so we was going walking. Tree brothers of the priest came with us. Priest took the bottle of holly water and with some difficulties was trying to find his family graves.
I was totally surprised when I realized that there is no common cemetery but each family has own graves on own farm. Five graves we met in the garden of trees were half destroyed by the wind. There was no Cross, no stone desks, nothing. Priest was reciting some Chinese prayers and his 3 uncles were reciting together, very nicely. I was asked to pray also, I was very surprise and I tried to recite Angelus in Latin. Chinese people here like Latin, so they were praying together. Afterwards Priest informed me that these graves were his grand-fathers and mothers graves. His fathers burial was a bit different place but the picture was the same. The same prayers the same water blessing and slowly in silence we returned to the center to have memorial supper.
11. Memorial supper.
I was surprised again. There was no memorial desk home, no incense, no envelops, no bowings. The men were sitting and eating, even beer and rise vodka was on the table. They were eating some pork, duck meet and shrinks. For me all this day was very tiring, so I asked excuse and fall sleep. In two hours we were on the way back. I was seeing again the corn on the road Yuntai Hill and Xian Xian.
The East is really strange. Strange are these graves. But very simple. Perhaps the people here is not afraid so much the moment of death as in Europe. They also treat differently their burials.
I remember from Sakhalin, my dear Koreans ever had some secrets. They never explain why they wish not to visit cemeteries in November with me. I only think they still pray their relatives souls home, and old son still has much to do.
I remember also one old lady, Sachiko Furkawa. Half Japanese half Polish. She was good catholic and ever happy when I visited her in far north Sakhalin Timovsk city. I realized in her flat there is typical Buddhist or Shinto memorial desk with a place for incense and rise. I know her father was dismissed from Sakhalin and they were artificially separated during many years. He died in 60-ties and only 30 years after his death he was buried, because the closest family was in Sakhalin unable to do it before. Soviet Russia not permitted own citizens to travel there.
Perhaps from the moment of burial she learned that traditional way of venerating souls. I was curious, but I was not protesting. So many years in Far East I got custom not to be hurry with comments.
Fr. Jaroslaw Wisniewski