The funeral procession
Funeral processions as a rule may be said to differ from one another rather with regard to show and length than with regard to arrangement. The wealth of the family, the social rank of the dead and the consideration in which he was held during his life, the position of his sons, the number of his friends and acquaintances, etc. have a must decisive influence on the pomp displayed in the train and on the number of persons and groups composing it. One may sometimes see corteges of not more than a dozen people, whilst others consist of many hundreds. Public opinion is wont to judge of the filial devotion of mourners from the way in which they celebrate the obsequies of their parents. Consequently, in burying a father or a mother, sons scarcely ever neglect to spend as much as they can afford on the cortege, everybody in China being most anxious to show that he possesses such filial conduct, the cardinal virtue of the nation, in the highest degree.
In the following pages we intend passing in review a funeral procession of the highest classes of society. In this way our description will be pretty complete, and the reader can then easily judge for himself which groups fall out at the funerals of the lower classes and the poor.
A kinsman or a friend of the family, in a mourning dress of white linen and with a cap of the same material on his head, opens the procession. His function is to clear the way in a polite and peaceful manner. Wherever he comes across anything which obstructs the passage, as e. g. a bench or counter on which articles are exposed for sale, a portable furnace belonging to an ambulant cook who sells warm food to the people in the streets, a load temporarily set down by a cooly who is taking a rest or food, or any obstacle of the sort, he requests the owner to remove it, at the same time offering him, by the hands of a cooly who follows at his heels, a piece of a betel-nut and a little wet lime-dough, wrapped in one or two siri-leaves. This cooly, who wears no mourning, carries a basket of these articles for distribution. In southern China, the chewing of betel and siri as a stimulant seems to have been very common in bygone centuries, but it has now almost entirely died out, being supplanted, it would appear, by tobacco and opium-smoking. Nevertheless, probably as a survival of those good old times, it is still customary for any man living at variance with another, in case he desires to apologize and accommodate matters, to send some of those articles to the latter’s house like a flag of truce ; and it would be considered highly improper on the part of the party, to whom the hand of reconciliation is tendered in this way, to refuse to accept the same. This fully explains why betel and siri are also distributed at funerals. Indeed, the clearer of the road confesses himself in the wrong with regard to the person whom he disarranges, and accordingly he immediately makes his apologies. In many instances, clearing the road is simply entrusted to the cooly alone ; at most of the plainer funerals it is entirely omitted.
Next follows a so-called ‘paper-scatterer’. This is a distant relation, a friend or an acquaintance, likewise dressed in a white robe and cap, or, in some cases, in sackcloth. His function is to strew round or octangular sheets of tinned paper, from eight to ten centimetres in diameter, along the road, and also in the water when the train has to cross a creek or stream by a bridge or in boats. A great number of these sheets, strung on a little stick like metal coins on a cord, he carries in his hands for the purpose. This paper money is destined for the malevolent spirits who, according to the popular conception, prowl about everywhere and infest streets and thoroughfares, mountains and forests, rivers and creeks, causing all sorts of mishap to befall men. Wisely concluding that great numbers of these beings, hungry and miserable because of their not having been cared for by a dutiful posterity, must be swarming chiefly on the roads where coffins have to pass, for the express purpose of robbing, by importunate begging or by brute force, every deceased person of the money wherewith the living have so unselfishly enriched him during the funeral rites, the measure in question is recurred to in order to divert their attention. Like famished wolves on their prey, the spirits rush upon the money, and thus forgetting both coffin and soul, permit the procession to pass by unmolested. In numerous cases the tinfoil is coloured yellow, that the sheets may represent golden coins. Many families in easy circumstances prefer to use square sheets of good white paper, such so-called ‘white money’ being higher in price than tinned paper and consequently more valued by the unseen spirits. Both sorts of mock money bear the generic name of ‘paper to buy off a passage’.
Not seldom the distribution of siri-cuds is also entrusted to the paper-scatterer. It is, moreover, incumbent on this man to affix a small shred of red cloth to every street-gate through which the procession passes, and to every bridge which it has to cross. The baneful, inauspicious influences emitted by the cortege of death are thus kept away from those spots and prevented from settling on the spirits which inhabit and control the same ; if the family should neglect to show this little attention, it might experience the wrath and anger of those beings, in other words, incur sundry misfortunes. For a similar reason, the man with the siri-cuds and the paper-scatterer, at every temple they pass, warn the custodian, or the persons loitering about the premises, to shut the door quickly, in order to prevent the divinities from being seen by the cortege. At some temples, instead of closing the door, they lower a nicely sculptured and painted triangular wooden board, which, with a view to such cases, hangs from a pulley in front of the gods.
Much though the unseen spirits may be propitiated by such liberal gifts of paper money, these are by no means deemed a decisive expedient to keep them at a respectable distance from the funeral train. Two long trumpets of copper, with a thin sliding tube and curved-up mouth, are still required to frighten away those among them on whom the distribution of money has no effect. These instruments, which are called ‘signal-heads’, are not proper musical instruments, as they only give two or three notes ; the men who carry them behind the paper‑scatterer simply emit monotonous, protracted sounds through them at intervals. These persons wear a jacket of black linen, which is fastened on the middle of the breast and has along each side of the opening a broad hem of red colour ; moreover, there is on the middle of the breast and on the back a piece of white cloth bearing the inscription ho siu. They wear a low round bat, likewise black, with a small brim. A fringe of red silken threads, fastened on the top, hangs down upon their hat.
These trumpeters remind us of the musicians who, in ancient Rome, marched at the head of funeral trains, each armed with a tuba or tibia longa of about the same length as the performer and ending in a bell-shaped mouth. At their heels follow two dirty blackguard boys, without either uniform, shoes or stockings ; each carries over his shoulder a banner of white cloth about one meter by three decimetres, the long side being fastened to a pole. Of such ‘decorative flags’ there are, as a rule, several in the procession. Most of them are red, because this colour dispels malevolent spirits.
Thanks to all these ingenious arrangements, both the soul and the mortal remains are now pretty well insured along the whole way against the attacks of invisible ghosts. But in several parts of Fuhkien many families consider it advisable to add a third efficacious means for keeping them away : they at intervals explode fire-crackers in the van of the procession. This custom we found to be specially in vogue at Ts‘üen-cheu-fu, the capital of the department in which the town of Amoy is situated.
So far for what we may call the vanguard of the procession, which consists exclusively of clearers of the road. The second division opens with two men, in a dress resembling that of the trumpeters, each carrying on a straight pole a great cylindric lantern of paper, the upper part of which is covered with as many flounces of sack-cloth as there are generations of the dead man’s family, himself counting for one generation. Each flounce only partly covers the one underneath, so that they are all visible. On one side these lanterns are inscribed with the official titles and the surname of the dead ; the other side displays, in case of a man, the inscription : ‘Illustrious father of (e. g.) four generations’, in case of a woman : ‘Illustrious mother of (e. g.) four generations’. They are called ‘white lanterns’, or ‘hempen lanterns’. In this part of the train there are, besides, two very big lanterns of red colour, called kam ting or ‘orange lanterns’ on account of their resemblance to that fruit. They are suspended from the top of a curved pole and display, in variegated characters, the names and official titles of the deceased.
At the outset lighted candles are placed in all these lanterns ; but they are soon burnt up or blown out by the wind, and nobody troubles himself to light them again. Their use in broad daylight shows decidedly that they are designed to pilot the soul, which lives in complete darkness, along the right path to the burial ground, and we believe that the inscriptions they bear, are intended to prevent the soul from being led astray by other lanterns, which it may happen to see along the road.
The lantern bearers are followed by a band of professional musicians, consisting of six or eight men. They play the following instruments. Either two or four wooden clarionets with wide copper mouths and, at the upper end, a flat mouth-piece of reed. One small drum, in most cases carried on a handle which passes through the barrel ; it is beaten by the right hand with a single stick. Very often this instrument is replaced by a small flat drum which has a body of wood covered with buffalo-skin on one side only, and which is likewise beaten with one stick. One pair of cymbals. A small gong with a boss in the middle. A frame in which two little gongs are affixed side by side by means of silk cords ; this instrument is carried on a handle and beaten with one stick. The musicians, who always belong to the lowest classes of society, wear hats with red tassels like those described on page 50 ; on their red uniform coats is stitched, on the middle of the breast and back, a square ornamental piece of white cloth, displaying a painted animal or some other figure. If it is hot, they usually tie their coats like a bundle on their backs and walk along with the upper parts of their bodies quite naked. This band is in many cases accompanied by two trumpeters like those who march in the van of the procession. Quite independent of the music, they send forth from time to time grave and dismal ghost-frightening sounds through the streets.
The music of such bands, of which there are many in the train, is called mourning music, as being quite different from that played on joyful occasions. But we do not believe that European ears would be able to distinguish between the two sorts, because the Chinese do not know major and minor scales and, moreover, the clarionets, which are the only instruments in the band by which more than one single note can be produced, are exceedingly shrieky and never tuned in the same key. The only impression which Chinese funeral music, like their music in general, makes on foreign ears, is that of a noisy confusion of some four or five discordant tones, played by men absolutely ignorant of the principles of harmony, who merely do their utmost to outvie all the other members of the band in making as much noise as possible. From a European point of view it does not even deserve the name of music.
But apart from the quality of this music, we see at any rate that the Chinese observe a custom which has likewise flourished in our Western world since very high antiquity, and which, being faithfully maintained in the burials of princes, grandees and the military, has given birth in modern times to those sublime productions of musical genius, known as funeral marches. Everybody is acquainted with the ancient Christian custom, still surviving in Catholic lands, of conveying the dead to the grave with psalmody. With the Chinese, the use of music in funeral processions and at other important moments of the rites connected with the disposal of the dead, is declared to have for its object the gratifying of the soul of the dead with dulcet tones, but is not intended to increase or decrease the melancholy character of the rites. Sundry passages in the Cheu li show, that the custom of having music in this connection is, in China, as ancient as the remotest ages into which the literature of the empire allows us to penetrate. Describing the functions of a Great Director of Music, the book states that
- « this dignitary, at Great Funerals, controls the arrangement of the musical instruments and does so too when, at the interment, those instruments are stored away.
Further it says :
- « The Master of the Music, at obsequies in general, arranges the instruments of music and then takes the lead of the musical functionaries. He acts in the same manner at the wailing by regular turns.
Still we have the following passages :
- « At Great Funerals, the Grandmaster heads the blind musicians and starts the elegy. The clear-sighted musicians start the instruments of music at Great Funerals. At Great Obsequies the Masters of the Pandean Pipes start their instruments, and at the interment they present the same and store them away (in the cave of the tomb). The Master of the Musical Bells and the Master of the Flutes start their instruments at Great Funerals ; they present them and store them away in the grave. The Director of the Instruments of Merit arranges, at Great Funerals, the stands for the bells and for the sonorous stones.
The musical band described serves as an escort to a white portable tent or pavilion of wood, open in front and on the two sides ; it has a roof of white cloth, linen or silk, on which dragons of gold thread are embroidered and which has a deep fringe on every side. By means of two large and two small poles it rests on the shoulders of four bearers, of whom one couple walks behind each other in front and the other behind each other at the back. In most cases these men are dressed in the poorest possible way, without the shade of a pretence to uniform dress ; they even go half-naked when the weather is hot. On each side, this white pavilion is escorted by a boy, carrying a ts‘ái kî which is likewise white ; in addition there is, in some cases, on each side a boy bearing aloft a paper lantern on a wooden pole. The pavilion contains an image, composed of a hollow frame of bamboo splints covered with variegated paper. This is never more than three quarters of a meter high, the dimensions of the pavilion not allowing the use of a larger figure. Its appearance is, according to Chinese conceptions, exceedingly terrific and therefore well fitted to strike the whole host of evil spirits with terror. The face, of a blood-red colour, has two large white eyes, from which black, protruding eye-balls cast about terrible looks ; a third eye stands perpendicular in the middle of the forehead, and a long purple beard of woollen threads heightens the intimidating aspect. The dress is that of a warrior : a helmet covers the head, a coat of mail the breast, thigh-plates the lower limbs. A long red gown hangs down from underneath the armour ; the broad girdle, which encircles the waist, bears the character , ‘King’, to make manifest to the evil spirits that they have to do with a being of great importance and power. This image is always made to stand, as an erect attitude renders it more formidable, martial and imposing. Its right hand brandishes a trident, its left hand, which is stretched out aloft, holds a red seal as a token of authority. Variegated ornaments like flowers and stars are affixed to sundry parts of its body. On the whole, the figure is a motley mixture of colours, amongst which, besides gold and green, red, which is so much feared by the spirits of darkness, is most conspicuous.
Although bamboo and paper are the ordinary materials of which such a clearer of the road is made, cloth and inferior sorts of silk sometimes enter into its composition at the burials of the rich. For reasons of economy it has in most cases no back, because this part of the body, if constructed, would be rendered invisible by the back-panel of the pavilion. The name by which this image is generally denoted, reads khai-lo sîn, ‘spirit that clears the way’.
In some instances its site is enormous. It is then often wheeled along the road on an open cart, no pavilion being large enough to contain it. When so big, it is usually stuffed with the heart, the liver, the paunch and other intestines of a pig. In Java, where the Chinese inhabitants are nearly all descended from natives of south-eastern Fuhkien, there are frequently to be seen khai-lo sîn higher than the roofs of two-storied houses ; but in most towns of the southern provinces of the empire such gigantic figures cannot be used, because the streets are too narrow and, moreover, in most places are covered with bamboo thatch and mats. Mr. Doolittle writes, that in Fuhchow two immense khai-lo sîn may sometimes be seen at the burial of high mandarins, the one dressed to represent a civil, the other to represent a military officer.
Chinese authors trace the use of such images at the head of funeral corteges back to the dawn of their national history. The ‘Description of Holy Sovereigns, Buddhist Leaders and sundry Divinities of the Source and Branches of the Three Doctrines’, says in its 4th chapter :
- « The Divine Prince who clears the Road is the Rescuer of the Country mentioned in the Cheu li. A tradition says, when the emperor Hien-yuen (i. e. Hwang-ti, whom chronology places in the 26th century before our era), travelled through the nine provinces of his territory, his chief concubine Lo-tsu died on the road. He then ordered his concubine next in rank, who bore the name of Hao-jü, to take care of the dead body, and this woman bought a Rescuer to watch over the corpse during the night. This is the origin of the divinity in question. His popular name is Spirit of the dangerous Roads ; an other appellation runs : General who vociferates along the Roads and the Streets ; a third is : Spiritual Prince who clears the Roads. This divinity is over ten feet high ; his forehead is three feet broad, his beard three feet five inches long and of a red colour. His face is dark blue, his hair is tied in a knot on the top of his head, and he wears a metal hood. He is clad in a red war-tunic and wears black leather boots ; his left hand holds a seal of jade, his right a painted halberd with a square blade. When a coffin is carried out with this being in front, all baleful influences are suppressed and malevolent spectres conceal themselves. He is the spirit who ensures happiness to coffins that are in motion. This has survived, and has been transmitted as a custom to subsequent generations.
We see from this, that the khai-lo sîn have their origin in the employment of living individuals as exorcists. This explains why people are still in the habit of placing the intestines of an animal inside the image. The above extract speaks of a Rescuer of the Country, mentioned by the Cheu li. If we open this book, we find indeed a description of the functions of certain exorcists bearing that title ; these consequently were actual officers of the state, probably also in the feudal kingdoms, among which the greatest part of the empire was divided in those times.
- « It is incumbent on the Rescuer of the Country to cover himself with a bear’s skin, to mask himself with four eyes of yellow metal, to put on a black coat and a red skirt, and thus, lance in hand and brandishing a shield, to perform, at the head of a hundred followers, a purification in every season of the year, which means the finding out of (haunted) dwellings and driving away contagious diseases. At royal funerals he walks ahead of the coffin and, arriving at the grave, he leaps into the pit to beat the four corners with his lance, in order to drive away the fang-liang spectres.
Such a curious devil-dispeller, or perhaps more than one, also figured at the head of imperial funeral corteges during the Han dynasty, as the Books of the After Han dynasty say :
- « The Rescuer of the Country has four eyes of yellow metal ; he is covered with a bear’s skin and dressed in a black coat and a red skirt. Bearing a lance and wielding a shield, he stands on a cart drawn by four horses and drives on in the van.
Living exorcists at burials are by no means out of fashion in the present age. At Amoy it is still fresh in the memory of the people how at the burial of a gentleman, who had been the prefect of a department in Kiangsi province, four men, clad in fanciful spectral attire, walked in front of a khai-lo sîn of colossal size, dancing and screaming all the way. At the grave they worked themselves into a fit of raving which resembled a demoniacal possession ; they cast themselves by turns into the pit, frantically yelling and brandishing their swords, and thus brought about a general sauve qui peut in the unseen world of spirits. People at that time denoted them by the name of khong chi‘ang, which perhaps means : ‘grave-pit hoppers’. Eye-witnesses have told this writer, that it had cost the family much trouble and expense to find persons to act this dangerous part in the burial. Indeed, everybody felt sure that some of the spectres, mad with fear and acting on an impulse of desperate self-defence, might throw themselves upon the exorcists and strike them with illness, nay, with death.
It must be noted by the way that, when the procession is on the point of starting, a petty sacrifice of sweetmeats, cups of tea and such like articles is arranged by the family in front of the khai-lo sîn, and offered to him as a luncheon by one of the attendant relatives, who, holding burning incense-sticks in his joined hands, makes a reverence to the image. This ceremony clearly shows that the figure is in point of fact conceived of as being possessed by a soul. Indeed, the Chinese scarcely believe in the existence of any inanimate object. Most families belonging to the middle and lower classes go to no expense for a khai-lo sîn image. They only make use of a pavilion intended for its occupancy, obviously expecting that, though there is no image inside it, the soul of one of the ancients who formerly acted the part of Rescuers of the Country will nevertheless settle in it, or, at any rate, that the spirits of darkness will be intimidated by the mere aspect of the vehicle.
In a former chapter we have already had an opportunity of stating that scarcely any well-to-do Chinese gentleman neglects to purchase an official degree, wherewith to crown the distinguished position to which his money has raised him. After his death, the original imperial brevet of his rank is paraded in his funeral behind the khai-lo sîn: thus men may see how illustrious a personage they have to do with, and evil ghosts, awe struck, keep their distance, The document is rolled up and wrapt in a piece of yellow cloth ; at either end a gilt flower is affixed, and so it is placed over two pins projecting like cloak-pegs from a small wooden stand, which is placed in a pavilion like that represented on Plate X. In the present case this pavilion and its embroidered roof are of the imperial yellow colour, in honour of the imperial document which lies inside.
It is quite a matter of course that this ‘pavilion for the dignity conferred’, should be surrounded with awe inspiring pomp. Everything, in fact, which stands in any relation whatever to the Son of Heaven ought to be attended with becoming respect. A couple of boys, each with a yellow ‘decorative flag’, walk on the right and left of the pavilion, and a complete band of musicians marches ahead ; moreover there is, in front, an escort of attendants and lictors as described on page 87. The gongbearers in this case have flags over their shoulders. In addition there are some men, bearing each a square board on a long wooden handle. Two of these tng-kha pâi, ‘tablets with a long leg’, display, in raised characters, the official title of the dead ; two others the name of the dignity with which he has been invested during his life ; a third pair bears the words : ‘Be respectful and keep silent’, and the fourth : ‘Turn away and abscond’. The dress of the bearers resembles that of the trumpeters mentioned on page 155. This party of men are supposed to escort the dead, who is the bearer of the dignity, not the patent, which is merely a badge of it.
But the principal group in this subdivision of the train, the pride and glory of the mourning family, is a set of two or four literary graduates of the lowest degree, so-called ‘Cultivated Talents’, siu ts‘ai, who have been engaged to act as ‘directors of the pavilion with the dignity conferred’. It is very grand, in fact the height of fashion, to have such miracles of learning in the train. No wonder they are dressed in the full uniform their rank entitles them to wear, lest anybody should mistake them for ordinary individuals. As long as the procession is passing through inhabited wards, these worthies walk afoot behind the yellow pavilion, most stately and majestic ; but when the open country is reached, where not so many eyes are fixed upon them in silent admiration, they immediately betake themselves to the palanquins, designedly posted there by the family for their case and comfort.
Even though the departed has never been invested with an official rank or dignity, a mandarin’s retinue may likewise be seen in this part of the procession. The long-legged boards are then borrowed, either gratuitously or for money, from some relative or acquaintance who, being in reality the bearer of a grade or title, keeps such instruments in his house as a necessary appendix to his dignity. This manner of decking one’s deceased parent in borrowed plumes does not in the least shock anybody. On the contrary, every one highly approves of this sort of thing, as the doctrines of filial devotion teach that it is a sacred duty on the part of children and grandchildren to exalt and magnify their seniors as much as is in their power.
A red pavilion with an embroidered cover of the same colour and accompanied by a couple of red decorative flags, appears next in the procession. It contains a shallow slide box of red lacquered wood, which is placed erect on one of its small sides, so that the slide, on which gilt dragons are sculptured, comes in front. A gilt flower is affixed to either side of the box. This is designed as a receptacle for one or more square plates of thick slate stone on which a short necrology of the dead is engraved, and which are to be deposed in the grave. Still for some obscure reason, these stones are not enclosed in the box, but are brought to the grave by a common cooly, who makes his way thither after his own fashion, regardless of the procession. This course of conduct is so generally followed, that the box, which, like all the funeral instruments, is provided by the undertaker, in most instances has not even a side which can be opened, and is merely the imitation of a box. Inside the pavilion one may also see a censer with burning incense, and two tapers in candle-sticks, all likewise destined to be put into the grave. In many cases these implements of worship are conveyed in a special pavilion, which precedes that with the box for the slate stones.
For relations, acquaintances or friends, who wish to give a visible testimony of their sympathy with the mourning family and the deceased, it is customary to enlarge the funeral train with a red pavilion carried by four bearers. In this way they express their willingness to provide the family with the necessary means of carrying the soul and the implements of burial to the tomb ; in other words, each pavilion represents a gift to help the family in defraying the expenses of the obsequies. A piece of inscribed red paper, posted on the back panel, shows who the donor is or the donors are ; it expresses this in plain terms, e. g. ‘The family Wu allied by marriage’, ‘The sworn brethern’, and the like. Not seldom each pavilion is escorted by a couple of lanterns, carried on poles and bearing the same inscription as the back panel ; two boys with decorative flags act as satellites to the pavilion and, in most cases, a band of musicians marches ahead, as another appendage.
These vehicles, which are called ‘auxiliary pavilions’, or ‘guest pavilions’, remain quite empty, because the family have nothing to put inside. It is scarcely necessary to say, that in funerals of persons of distinction they are often numerous ; we have sometimes seen a row of several dozens, The undertakers, who provide them, do not charge much over one dollar or one dollar fifty cents a piece, bearers, musicians, flags and lanterns included, so that the costs do not weigh heavily upon the donors. For the mourning family, however, the case is different, because custom compels them afterwards to repay the attention of all these officious people with a present equal to the outlay they have made. No wonder therefore that the family often see with reluctance such numerous proofs of friendship enforced upon them. At all events the undertaker is the greatest gainer, as this useful man wisely increases his own profits by providing fewer bearers and fewer musicians than have been contracted for. It is easy for him to do this. For, most of the persons who are so intimately connected with the dead as to send a pavilion, are also in duty bound to accompany him to the grave ; and, whereas they then walk in the rear of the procession, they cannot see what happens so far ahead of them. But, not liking to be fleeced if he can avoid it, many a donor sends a servant to guard against the rapacious proceedings of the undertaker. This ingenious measure generally entails much clamorous discussion and, occasionally, hot quarrels…..