What do Chinese people do in a funeral? I don’t know what other Chinese do, but my family recently had a funeral for my grandpa and it was nice and low key.
Since we’re not that religious and no one knew what Buddhist sutras were appropriate or even how to chant them, we outsourced that part and hired monks from a nearby temple. It may seem strange that even though we’re not religious, we hired Buddhist monks, but it makes sense to Chinese people who by default believe at least in some parts of Buddhism.
Hiring monks turned out to be a good idea because not only did they come and chant for us, but they also instructed us about all the traditions that go with a funeral: what food offerings to make, what food to eat during the wake, what offerings to make for dinner, etc. They met us at the chapel and passed around sutra books and started the chanting. Afterward, we did the incense burning and walking once around the coffin. Even though traditionally, everyone has to burn three sticks of incense, it was okay to take shortcuts and just have each person burn one stick because my extended family was so large.
Although it’s not a Buddhist belief at all, my family also burned paper sacrifices to send to the afterlife. There was a large two story house made out of paper, a paper BMW, paper gold and silver mountains, and of course, paper money. Some of the paper money said “Hell bank note” on them, which I thought was weird. I guess hell isn’t such a bad place to be for the Chinese.
After the funeral, the whole family went to a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. The vegetarian food is supposed to be an offering or sacrifice to Buddha to make him happy. According to my dad, there must be a tofu dish at lunch.
The dinner following the funeral was almost the complete opposite of lunch. It was full of chicken, pork, and fish because it’s an offering to my grandpa, who happens to enjoy his meat. We cooked some of his favorite dishes: roasted suckling pig with the crackly skin, steamed fish, fried fish, and various meat-filled dim sum (we bought those).
Before the family could eat, an altar was set up outside with plates of the food, dessert, fruit, cups of tea, and cups of alcohol for grandpa to eat. Then, candles and incense were lit. The adults of my parents’ generation couldn’t eat until the incense burned down because that was when grandpa was done eating. The kids just dug in at the kids’ table.
It seemed strange for a not-so-religious or superstitious family like mine to perform these funeral rites, but most of them were tradition and passed from one generation to the next. I think at least for that day, everyone believed in them.