Chinese Funeral Traditions

Chinese funeral practices can vary widely according to geography and religion, but they all share some commonalities: length, solemn beauty and display of respect for a loved one. Rose Hills is a foremost expert in Asian funeral traditions. Our funeral planners—many of whom speak Chinese—specialize in Chinese funeral and burial traditions, and they work closely with families to design each ceremony according to the unique life of the person being honored.

Our Whittier mortuary and the newly built Hua Yuan Ceremonial Complex are specifically designed with the cultural needs of Chinese families in mind. Our state-of-the-art witness crematorium allows families who wish to participate in the cremation of their loved ones to do so.

From the dress code and colors to the length of visitation and religious customs, the characteristics of a Chinese funeral ceremony are significant yet varied. Honoring traditions and heritage is fundamental. Chinese families follow a variety of religious practices, including Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist. Families living in the United States may also combine their native cultural traditions with Christian funeral practices. We're here to help you plan a service that incorporates the elements important to your family in the most meaningful way.

 

Black and white photographs lay across an album on a coffee table.

Funeral and burial customs

The family plays a key role in shaping a Chinese funeral ceremony, as do monks and priests. A deep reverence for elders is a cornerstone of Asian culture and an important part of Chinese funerals. Prior to visitation, the family may wash their loved one with warm water. In Taiwan this is done three times. Family members then dress their loved one.

Keeping the casket open is considered a sign of respect. It is common for families to honor their loved one with three full days of visitation prior to the funeral, during which they prefer not to move the person who has died. Some may choose to stay with their loved one throughout the visitation period, even preparing meals on-site.

A grieving family may burn incense throughout the service. They may also burn joss paper money, houses, cars and more as part of a service. When they return to the gravesite within a few days, mourners often burn incense or paper money to help their loved one along on their journey to the afterlife.

White or yellow mums are appreciated at Chinese funerals, as white chrysanthemums symbolize lamentation or grief. Families typically wear white and opt not to wear jewelry. Red is not worn in clothing or accessories, as it is considered a color of happiness. Western influences have made black attire more acceptable at Chinese funerals, but in some instances, guests who wear black will add a white armband to their outfits.

After visitation is over, the coffin will be sealed. If present, family members may keep their backs turned, because they believe that the souls of the people who see a coffin being closed will be trapped in the coffin. Likewise, at the gravesite, family and friends turn their back on the coffin as it is lowered into the grave.

A feng shui master may choose the day and time for burial; Taiwanese people may hire a geomancer—someone who reads the Earth's energies—to identify the best day to hold the burial. Family members lead a funeral procession to the cemetery, often carrying incense and portraits of their loved one.

The Buddhist funeral

A Buddhist viewing takes place for only one night, generally the evening before the funeral, and typically includes candlelight and incense. During visitation, the family sits at the front of the room, greeting those who have come to show support.

Adhering to Buddhist tradition, the funeral service is held the day after the viewing and is conducted by a monk. There is almost always an open casket to allow attendees to say goodbye. Guests are expected to bow slightly toward their loved one as a sign of appreciation for lessons regarding impermanence of life. There may be a meditation period, a traditional Buddhist custom, during the ceremony to reflect on the person's life and honor their memory. It is common for Buddhist memorials to include an altar with a portrait of the loved one, where friends and family can lay offerings of candles, incense, flowers and fruit.

After funeral ceremonies are complete, the casket is taken to a burial ground, often on a hillside for positive feng shui.

Depending on beliefs and preferences, Buddhists may choose cremation. In Hong Kong, cremation is encouraged. It is customary for some families to witness the cremation. The Witness Crematorium at Rose Hills accommodates this tradition.


Rose Hills Photo Contest entry

Rose Hills’ Buddhist Columbarium

Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Columbarium at Rose Hills is the largest Buddhist pagoda in the United States. Built in 1999, the three-story structure is supported by crimson pillars and golden glazed tiles, replicating the architecture of ancient Chinese palaces. The columbarium offers beautiful views of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, as well as a bird’s-eye view of Sycamore Valley and SkyRose Chapel.

The lobby of Hua Yuan Ceremonial Complex at Rose Hills showcases the elements of water, sun and air.

Hua Yuan Ceremonial Complex

The Hua Yuan Ceremonial Complex opened in 2019 and was designed with the cultural needs of Asian families in mind—though families of all cultural backgrounds are welcome to use the space. The state-of-the-art building includes two modern chapels, each with its own catering kitchen, dining room, ceremonial burner and courtyard. At the heart of Hua Yuan is an elegant reception area that showcases the elements of water, sun and air.

Learn more

Planning a Chinese funeral at Rose Hills

If you are seeking to plan a funeral that honors your family’s Chinese culture and customs, and the wishes of your loved one, Rose Hills can help. Our planning professionals speak a broad range of languages, including English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese and Shanghainese, and they are well-versed in the cultural traditions of Asian families.

Whether you are creating a traditional tribute, would like to set up an extended visitation or are looking for cemetery property with positive feng shui, we will work with you to incorporate small or large details that honor your heritage. Download our funeral planning guide or contact an advisor today.



Get your free planning guide

Particular passions, milestone moments and legacies created weave together to tell a story that is completely unique. The Insider’s Guide to Funeral & Cremation Planning will walk you through inspirational ideas and the simple steps to planning an unforgettable memorial of a loved one’s life—or your own when you plan in advance. Download your FREE planning guide today.