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Legends and Practices

Legend on crossing a fire pit after funeral
According to ancient Chinese legends, fire can help eliminate goblins and monsters. By way of imitation, Chinese people developed a convention on crossing a fire pit after attending a funeral to bring good luck and fortune.

(Source: 中華民族源流集成)

Legend of the fifth 7-day interval after death
Contrary to current practices where people usually complete a funeral after cremation or burial, in ancient times Chinese emphasise the significance of the fifth 7-day interval after death based on a legend relating to the honorable judge Bao.

‍Honorable judge Bao was fair and just in courts whose virtue was highly appraised by people. After he died, he was nominated by the afterlife emperor to be the esteemed judge of the first court where souls are scrutinised for good or evil in the first 7-day interval after death. Kindness has driven judge Bao to release souls back to life for those who died of injustice or with unfinished business irrespective of the fact that time was up for these souls in life. Dissatisfied by such act, judge Qin in the fifth court who judges souls during the fifth 7-day interval after death made a complaint to the afterlife emperor, who thus swapped the roles of judge Bao and Qin as a result. So, souls can only meet judge Bao in the fifth court during the fifth 7-day interval, by which the body of the deceased may start decomposing hence unable to return to life. Therefore judge Bao pleaded to the afterlife emperor and set up a terrace overlooking hometown (“望鄉台”) together with a mirror letting the souls see their family and his/her body for the last time. This legend has marked the significance of the fifth 7-day interval after death.
(Source: 中華民族源流集成)

Placing willow branches over a tomb
There are four theories prompting people to place willow branches over a tomb.

First, it is said to be a practice inherited from the ancient Sui Dynasty dedicated to the Qingming Festival in spring (also known as Tomb Sweeping Day). As the emperors of the Sui Dynasty developed a vast canal network over ancient China, the planting of willow trees which favour wet soils around the canals was a good way of reinforcing the dykes and dams to prevent landslides.

Also, a famous poet in the Song Dynasty had a large group of female patrons paying visits to his tomb bringing willow branches as souvenirs each time at the Qingming Festival is said to have brought forward this funeral tradition.

Second, the planting of willow trees at the Qingming Festive was used as a symbol of revolution by Huang Chao. In some areas, people place willow branches under the roof to observe the weather, i.e. indicating a rainy day if the willow branch is fresh and green and sunny if the willow branch dries up.

Third, in Northern Wei Dynasty, there was a practice for hanging willow branches at home especially when they broom in spring to ward off evil and ghost. Willow branches were also treated as a symbol for eradicating pandemics in ancient China.

Lastly, the placement of willow branches was in remembrance of master Jie as the then emperor Jin paid tribute to the master during Qingming Festival by naming a willow tree and wearing a few willow branches over his head.

Also, there was a legend originating from a hoax pretending to make paper money offerings to his brother over his tomb to bring him back to life. People believed that it was true and developed a convention to make paper money offerings to the dead.

(Source: 中華民族源流集成)

Legend about funeral staff

In ancient Ningxia in Gansu Province in Mainland China, people will offer tobacco leaves and a tobacco rod as burial objects for deceased males and make a hole in the coffin with a bamboo extension resembling the release of tobacco smoke.

In a village, people discovered that smoke vented from the hole of a coffin of a child who died of illness and after digging open the coffin the child was found alive and healthy taking the tobacco.

Hence, there developed a convention not to bury one immediately after death but laying the body still for 3 to 5 days before burial.

In order to make visible possible smoke venting from the bamboo rod of the tomb, people used to stick strips of white paper at the top of the bamboo rod to identify if smoke is present. This rod was gradually turned into a funeral staff to be carried at a person’s funeral.
(Source: 中華民族源流集成)

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