H is a pre-med Biology major at USC who grew up in Vancouver, Washington. His parents immigrated to the US from Vietnam.
H: “For funerals, you have to visit every day for the first week after the funeral and then once a week for seven weeks. And then, on the hundredth day since the funeral, everybody comes back to the temple. It’s like, the biggest day for them (the dead). You pray for them, wish them well at the temple. The hundredth day is when you have everybody together and you have a big feast. You have these white headbands that you wear and on the hundredth day, they chop off the headband.”
Since H was raised in a Viet-American household, he and his family’s celebration of weddings is similar to an Irish wake funeral, but also adds cultural specificity to Viet customs. For example, it is common in Irish funerals to throw a party on the deceased’s behalf, not only as a celebration of the deceased when they were alive but as a re-engineering of the domineering sorrow of a funeral. H’s feast on the hundredth day pays homage to the one who died without inviting negative emotions into the celebration of the individual.
Funerals are a liminal space, as Von Gennup puts it, lingering between the stages of life and death in a person’s existence on Earth. Rather than using funerals as a chance to mourn, H and Irish funeral traditions connect with members of their community and pray for safety into the next part of existing for the dead. This acceptance of death, the massive respect and commitment to the dead after the funeral, seems cultural, as does the white headbands and time. There is an acceptance of death as time marches on, not a denying of it. Rather, H’s family seems to come to terms that nothing can get in the way of death but glimmers for an appreciation of life and the one the once dead led.
After someone dies in China, you throw a large celebration in their honor, and during these events, people often hire a professional wailer to aid in mourning. These wailers stand vigil and scream and cry for hours following a burial. They wear all white as a sign of mourning and respect.
The last time the informant went to China when she was 9, she was walking the streets with her mother and sister in the province of Hunan when she encountered a large funeral celebration, complete with firecrackers, lights, and banners. However, at this celebration she encountered a professional wailer for the first time, dressed in all white and screaming loudly near a grave. Her mother told her that wailing is a way to honor the deceased in China, and the louder the cries, the more you honor their memory.
Chinese culture is known to promote the restraint of emotion in public settings. This culture makes it difficult or taboo for individuals to publicly cry and mourn (Cheukie). However, at the same time, not doing so at a funeral would be disrespectful towards the dead, so as a result, the practice of professional mourning was born. This is both a way of honoring the dead while also preserving the honor of the self since it is not socially proper to cry in public, and many might have a difficult time doing so when the situation does call for it. For this reason, I believe professional wailing became popular in China as a way of showing respect and reverence for the dead while also upholding the norms of social propriety. The wailers manufacture emotion, allowing negative feelings to be expressed in a way that is more culturally acceptable.