March 13, 2012

The Rebuilt Cheuk Clan Grave in Wuchuan

In southern China, towns are growing fast and there is often no clear line between urban and rural. One day a few weeks ago, on one of our habitual weekend walks in and around Wuchuan, Guangdong province, my honey and I stumbled on this lone grave, just a few dozen meters from busy city streets.

Wuchuan, Guangdong, 2012

The shape of the grave is rather typical for this area of China, and it's also not at all unusual to see a single grave or a small cluster of graves out in the countryside or mixed in with farm plots, as opposed to a formal cemetery within certain boundaries. 

Below you see a closeup of the burial mound with the black stone marker with red characters of the family name at the back.


As we were photographing whatever we thought interesting, this friendly farmer approached us. He eagerly engaged in conversation with my honey (who is of Chinese origin) and part of what follows is what he told us about the grave.


This farmer is a descendant of the Cheuk Clan. The grave was built in 2010 to commemorate the ancestors of this clan from Wuchuan who died anytime from one to two hundred years ago - he wasn't so sure - up to a few generations ago. 

Inset into the red brick wall behind him (above) is a complete list of living clan members who contributed funds to the project of rebuilding their ancestors' grave to honor them.

 

The small grave behind the clan grave is for the servants of the clan who were considered part of the family yet were expected to serve beyond their lives on this earth.

Most important to the living descendants is to place their ancestors in an auspicious spot that will enhance their fortune and welfare in all aspects. The farmer specifically asked whether my honey thought the family had picked a good feng shui spot, to which he answered, "yes, the spot is good, facing a fine view; however, unfortunately, the open view is cut by power lines. That must not be very comfortable for them and could diminish the good effect somehow."


I hope to write more about southern Chinese burial culture and the role feng shui plays in future posts.

This post is my participation in today's Taphophile Tragics meme.

21 comments:

hamilton said...

This is a rather big burial mound, especially considering how valuable land must be for these fast growing cities.

Kay L. Davies said...

Francisca!
I've missed ya.

I'm afraid I seldom look at Julie's Taphophile Tragics, although I try to keep up with everything else she posts.
But this Chinese grave is fascinating, and the little church in your January 16 post below is wonderful.

Great to be seeing your photos again (pun intended).
K

VioletSky said...

Francisca you're back!! I was getting worried, you were gone so long!

I am impressed with this idea of descendants wanting to honour their ancestors. And to include the servants - well that would never happen in our society.

Evelyn said...

What immediately came to mind is how big the space is. I remember my ancestors grave in Malaysia - they are rather big too... but not THIS big and grand!

Vicki/Jake said...

Good to read you again! And what a fascinating post this is. So interesting how other cultures view death and the importance of remembering those who have past. Even the servents....
Hope all is well and happy for you:)

Andrea said...

Hello Francisca, very happy to see your post again! You're out of circulation for 2 months and i hope everything is fine with you.

I was so amazed the first time i saw the Omega-shaped Chinese grave in Fujian, so wide and normally on high elevation. We visited it complete with the traditional fireworks-belt they also use on weddings. The longer the belt, the longer will be the sounds. They said it is for good luck to drive away the negative! Whenever i hear those sounds i know there's either a wedding or a funeral. Here, we hear those only on New Year, both the traditional and the Chinese New Year!

Sondra said...

I wish more people in this country would bury on family land....I feel we should die where we lived! Feng shui for burials...never figured that!!

Sallie (FullTime-Life.com said...

Happy to see your post pop up on my Reader. Welcome back -- glad you brought back some great pix and good information as always.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

Finally, you've found access to the net. It's been a long dry spell since we've heard from you. How fortunate to have a translator with you. I'm not totally clear. Is this mound a memorial to the clan members who have died or are some of the clan actually buried here? Also what did the farmer say about the effect of the power lines on the feng shui? Hope you and Honey are well.

s.c said...

Very interesting to see and to read. Thanks for showing.

Francisca said...

Thanks for the warm welcomes back, everyone! I've missed blogging!

@Hamilton - You're so right, this land is gaining value! Right now it's still controlled by the clan, but as the town grows, they may be forced to give up this farm land (and yes, expropriation is all too common).

@Andrea - the shape of this grave is common throughout southern China, and locating a grave on a hill provides auspicious feng shui (wind water). Fire crackers to ward off evil spirits are getting less common since many urban cities have banned them, but you are right, they are still popped for weddings, funerals, births, store openings, new year's, and any other event that needs good luck. :-)

@Sondra... in traditional Chinese culture the departed are believed to still have influence over the living, and so they are buried in places that give the dead spirits comforts, including those afforded by harmonious placement (feng shui). I'll write more about this in future.

Francisca said...

@Oakland - your questions are hard to answer. In Chinese this is called a grave and in theory it is where the dead spirits reside; but since this is for ancestors who died many decades and even centuries ago, it is unlikely that there were any real remains to disinter and rebury, so we would probably call it a memorial. Nonetheless, not too far from this spot there were some smaller graves in the same style for more recent burials, so this is most likely the area where this clan was always buried. Am I making any sense? LOL! As for the farmer's reaction, he called my honey a master (although he is not) and was quite disturbed. But both men then shrugged it off as the price of development.

EG CameraGirl said...

So interesting, Francisca. I know only a little about feng shui so would be interested in learning more. Interesting that the power lines might make them uncomfortable!

Julie said...

This is, indeed, fascinating, Francisca. There are many questions which arise, and I wait with breath bated for your follows-up.

I appreciate that Chinese culture venerates elders and ancestors. But the Chinese are a wiley race, as well. To afford the departed such a fortuitous spot, should rain benefits upon the living, if I read what you have written correctly. So, self-interest plays its part. As for the assistance to servants, it was not so much appreciation, as servitude post-death.

I do like your photograph of the farmer's hand. It deserves another run in a subsequent post, or a spotlight in some way. It is quite a delight. Less delightful, however, is the rake that he has slung over his shoulder. I have not seen one with such lengthy prongs before. Is this because the topsoil is so deep, and he needs to till it very thoroughly?

Wonderful post. Good that you have come out from behind the bamboo curtain.

Traveling Hawk said...

Welcome back, Francisca, I missed you!

It's interesting that nowadays the Chinese started to observe again their traditions.

I am eager to see other posts about your time spent there.

Gene said...

The design with the walls reminds me of the newest section in the local Mountain View Cemetery, "Golden Lotus Mountain", which they designed with feng shui in mind. I haven't checked it out yet, in part because there's so much to explore at Mt. View.

H said...

Fascinating! And very good to have you back :)

Genie said...

What a touching and wonderful tradition. Such a special way to remember and never forget a group of people who were the loved ones of the living. The site is impressive and very poignant. A lovely post. Happy St. Patty’s Day.genie

JM said...

I think it's the first time I see this kind of grave in China. Love the man's portrait and the details too.

Pat Tillett said...

VERY interesting. Your photos of the farmer and first rate, especially his hand on the handle of his tool. I once read that many times, there are no remains at all in many Chinese graves. Do you know if this is true?

Francisca said...

Pat, my honey says that it depends on how good the feng shui is. When it is very good (read: well buried in good soil conditions) then the remains can last over a century. In Guangdong, the custom is to bury the body in a wood crate; the wood and meat disintegrate and the after some years, the bones are dug up, cleaned, placed in an urn, and reinterred. Needless to say, not many people are buried in ideal fend shui conditions.