What Happens at a Chinese Funeral? Traditions, Customs & Rituals

A Chinese funeral holds deep significance and involves cultural practices that are unique. In this article, we explain some of those practices and discuss the option of cremation for a final goodbye.

In Chinese families, where honoring one’s parents and respect for ancestors run deep, funeral customs hold immense significance.

But with the changing times, new questions arise. Can cremation align with cherished traditions?

In this article we'll explore how cremation can be a respectful and practical option, while still incorporating those cherished elements that create a meaningful Chinese funeral.

Pre-Funeral Preparations

Chinese funeral traditions involve specific practices before the actual ceremony takes place. Here’s an overview of those preparations:

Role of the family

In Chinese funeral traditions, the family takes center stage. It's a time for loved ones to come together, express their grief, and honor the memory of the deceased.

Here's a closer look at the family's important roles:

Consulting a Feng Shui Master

Feng shui, literally translated as "wind-water," emphasizes creating harmonious environments by balancing the flow of energy (qi). Here's how it plays a significant role in Chinese funerals:

Preparing the Body and Setting Up the Visitation Area

Following the passing of a loved one, Chinese tradition calls for a respectful preparation of the body and a carefully arranged visitation area. Here's a closer look at these important steps:

The deceased is often dressed in their finest attire, reflecting the dignity and respect they held in life.  Alternatively, traditional burial robes might be chosen, often in simple white or other calming colors.

The visitation area is usually set up in the funeral home. It might contain an altar adorned with offerings like fresh flowers, fruits, and incense. A portrait of the deceased is prominently displayed, allowing visitors to pay their respects.

Visitation practices: The visitation period in Chinese funerals is a deeply significant tradition, steeped in cultural beliefs about the afterlife and honoring the deceased. Here’s usually what it involves:

The Funeral Ceremony

A Chinese funeral ceremony is a beautiful time of respect and remembrance for a life well lived. Here’s what you can expect if you attend one:

Casket sealing rituals

Just before the casket is sealed, a unique custom takes place. Those present, often including close family members, may be asked to turn away.

This tradition stems from the belief that witnessing the sealing of the casket could trap the soul of the deceased within the mortal realm. By turning away, mourners symbolically allow the spirit to embark on its journey to the afterlife.

Ceremonial activities

The funeral procession, led by the eldest son or grandson, is a significant part of the ceremony. The casket, often adorned with beautiful floral arrangements chosen by the family, is carried shoulder-high or transported by a hearse.

Family members and mourners follow in a designated order, reflecting their closeness to the deceased.

The ceremony often begins with an opening prayer led by a monk, priest, or a respected elder, depending on the family's faith.

Following the opening prayer, eulogies are delivered. The eldest son or daughter traditionally takes the lead, offering a heartfelt tribute to their parent's life. Other close relatives and friends may also share their memories, painting a vivid picture of the deceased's personality, accomplishments, and impact on their lives.

Giving monetary gifts

In Chinese funerals, it's customary for mourners to offer monetary gifts to the grieving family. This serves a dual purpose of expressing condolences and contributing towards the funeral expenses. Here's a closer look at this tradition:

Gifts in odd amounts:

Traditionally, monetary gifts are presented in odd amounts. Even numbers are associated with funerals and bad luck, so odd numbers symbolize good fortune and a wish for the deceased's peaceful transition. Commonly chosen amounts might be 101, 131, or any other odd number considered auspicious.

White envelopes:

The money is presented in white envelopes, signifying mourning and respect. These envelopes can be plain white or decorated with simple, elegant designs. Mourners might write a brief message of condolence on the envelope, expressing their sympathies to the family.

When to give the monetary gift: 

The timing of presenting the monetary gift can vary depending on regional customs and family preferences. In some cases, mourners might offer the gift during the visitation period, discreetly placing the envelope in a designated box or handing it directly to a family member.

Alternatively, some families might prefer receiving gifts after the ceremony, allowing mourners to express their condolences at a designated location.

Symbolism and Offerings

There is deep symbolism and meaning involved in a Chinese funeral, and families have the option to incorporate as many of these traditions and customs to honor their loved one as they wish:

Funeral flowers

The choice of flowers goes beyond aesthetics, carrying symbolic meanings that convey respect and well wishes for the departed spirit. Here's a closer look at the world of funeral flowers in Chinese traditions:

Burning incense and joss paper

Burning incense and joss paper is a cornerstone ritual in Chinese funerals. This practice stems from the belief that offerings made in the physical world reach the spirit world, ensuring the deceased's comfort and continued well-being in the afterlife.

Here’s the significance of these elements:

What to wear to a Chinese funeral

In Chinese funerals, dressing appropriately demonstrates respect for the deceased and their family. Here's a breakdown of traditional and modern attire guidelines:

Post-Funeral Traditions

The Chinese funeral ceremony has a series of specific traditions that mark the end of the event. Here’s an overview of those practices:

Procession to the final resting place

The procession to the final resting place, whether a gravesite or crematory, is a significant part of the Chinese funeral ceremony. It's a time for family and mourners to pay their final respects and witness the deceased begin their journey into the afterlife.

Here's a closer look at the roles and traditions involved:

Good luck and warding off evil

Chinese funeral traditions acknowledge the potential for bad luck to be associated with death. To counter this, mourners participate in specific practices aimed at leaving bad luck at the funeral and bringing good fortune home. Here are some examples:

Is Cremation Allowed?

Yes, cremation is allowed at a Chinese funeral.

Traditionally, both burial and cremation have been accepted practices in Chinese funeral customs. The decision ultimately rests with the family, allowing them to choose the option that best reflects their cultural background, beliefs, and the wishes of the deceased.

Cremation offers a dignified and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional burial. This can be especially relevant in densely populated areas where cemetery space is limited.

During a cremation, families can incorporate traditional elements like creating altars with offerings, prayers, or chanting by monks, ensuring a respectful and meaningful ceremony. Many cremation providers offer families the opportunity to witness the cremation process in a private setting. This allows for a final goodbye and a sense of closure for loved ones.

Cultural and religious variations

Chinese funeral customs can be seamlessly integrated into the cremation process, ensuring a ceremony that honors the deceased and reflects the family's unique spiritual background.

Let's dive deeper into how specific traditions from different faiths can be respectfully observed alongside cremation.

Buddhist traditions:

Taoist, Hindu, or Christian customs:

Next Steps

We hope this article has provided valuable information about cremation and its compatibility with Chinese funeral practices. The decision of burial or cremation is a deeply personal one. We understand that families may wish to incorporate cherished traditions while honoring their loved one's wishes.

If you or someone you know is planning a cremation in the Los Angeles area, consider using Meadow Memorials.

Our streamlined process allows you to complete everything conveniently by phone, email, or online. Simply answer a few questions, and our team will handle the rest. 

With our licensed team, you can expect:

Explore our cremation & personalized memorial services.