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It can be an eye-opener if one has never attended a Chinese-style funeral before. Rather than risk making any mistakes at the funeral, it is always helpful to know a little bit about the expected etiquette to follow as a funeral visitor.

While ‘Chinese’ funerals in Singapore typically refer to Buddhist or Taoist services, many Christian funerals held by Chinese families also largely adhere to the same etiquette rules – although the rites and proceedings of the funeral itself differ vastly. In this article, we’ll focus more on Buddhist services for Chinese funerals.

1. Choose your outfit carefully

Funerals are sombre affairs, so wearing neutral, monochrome colours are expected when attending a funeral. Some religions and traditions have set attire for the family members, but if you are just a visitor to the funeral, colours like black, white, or muted shades are acceptable. As red is a colour of celebration in the Chinese culture, it is highly offensive to wear red at a Chinese funeral. Revealing or distracting clothes are a no-no as well, as they can be seen as disrespectful.

2. Paying respects to the dead

Upon arriving at the wake or funeral, one of the deceased’s family member will usually take you to see the casket. If it is a Buddhist or Taoist event, you can offer a lit joss-stick and bow to the deceased if you also practise the religion. However, if you prefer not to for personal reasons, you can just bow for a few moments to pay your respects to the deceased.

3. What to do during the wake

Depending on the wake or funeral proceedings, Buddhist funerals may have prayer rites and chanting going on. If you are a visitor there, don’t fret – you are not expected to take part in any of these. Most families appreciate the time you take to come, and will be happy just sitting at a table and having a chat with you, provided they are not caught up by other duties.

If you go in the evening time, you might be offered dinner; otherwise, there are usually some light snacks and packet drinks that you are free to consume as well. For visitors who are close to the family, you can consider going at night-time to keep them company and awake as they hold vigil throughout the night.

4. Condolence donation

In Chinese funerals, it is customary for guests to offer condolence donations to the family of the deceased. These donations, or bai jin (‘white gold’), are meant to help cover the costs of the funeral arrangements. Usually, guests will give the cash contribution after paying respects to the deceased. You can give any amount that you are comfortable giving, according to your financial ability and closeness to the family.

5. Taking your leave from the funeral

You can leave anytime you wish during the wake or funeral, but leaving in the middle of important rites or sermons can be disruptive and is best avoided. Let one of the hosts know that you are leaving, and you can part ways with some final condolence wishes.

At Buddhist or Taoist wakes, you might notice red threads placed at each table. According to Chinese superstition, tying one of these threads around your finger will help to stave off any bad luck or evil spirits brought about from attending the funeral. So, if you wish, you can tie one of these threads loosely around your finger, and discard it before reaching home.

Final thoughts

Due to the multifaceted cultures and modernisation in Singapore, funeral practices may differ vastly from one funeral to the next, even if they are all considered ‘Chinese’ funerals. However, these guidelines are a very useful general guide to most Chinese funerals here.

If you are arranging a funeral service for your loved one, we are available at 1Stop Buddhist Funeral Services to provide funeral planning advice and Buddhist casket services to those who need assistance as well.