July 3, 2012

A Grand Armchair Grave

On our way home to Manila from Wuchuan ten days ago we passed through Hong Kong and again stayed with our friends in the countryside of the New Territories. It's a lovely secluded and green place to live, but as guests without a car, getting in and out is not always most convenient.

I wanted to visit a cemetery for Taphophile Tragics, but my honey and our hosts were not at all enthusiastic. Not only was it a work day for my friends, it rained most of the day, so it was not a good time for either an outing or photography.

Truth be told, Chinese in general regard cemeteries with mixed feelings. While on special days in the year they meticulously go through the rituals of ancestor worship I described before, they otherwise see cemeteries as places for powerful spirits both good and bad, places to be avoided. In sharp contrast with the West, Chinese do not regard cemeteries as positive urban spaces. To illustrate, I was told we'd likely have trouble getting a taxi driver to take us to the cemetery up on a hill in the area, let alone wait for us while I explore. Unfortunately it was much too far to reach on foot.

To appease me, my friend offered to walk me to this grave near her home. Or rather, she showed me the start of a narrow concrete path, pointed up, and said, "it's about 20 meters up there." Then she quickly turned to return home. No way was she going to accompany me!

So here is what I found: a grand example of a modern armchair-shaped grave (all photos can be enlarged).


 Hong Kong, 2012

Headstone: Here lie together Uncle Wong, Father Wong and Mother Lau. First built 1967, rebuilt Jan 2002 by all the offspring.


The two minor side graves are for the "guards" - in Chinese they are called "god of the earth."


You'll agree the grave resembles an armchair, with raised areas protecting three sides, from its back reaching around to the left and right. The front is left open and accommodates the platform where living family members engage in the rites of ancestor worship. I've shown less grand versions of the armchair grave here and here.

 
I have read that constructing graves in the armchair shape goes back to the Northern Song Dynasty, 960-1127 AD.  Many Chinese, especially in southern China, have long regarded the form of an armchair as the ideal shape for a grave. It provides a sense of wealth, comfort and dignity.

According to fengshui beliefs, it is considered auspicious for a grave to have a good view.



Historically only the ruling class or the mandarin Chinese could afford armchair graves. Today they are increasingly frowned upon as taking up too much valuable real estate. But as elsewhere, old customs and traditions here die reluctantly.

The property behind the grave had a dog that was not pleased with my visit and barked incessantly. Rather than any spirits that may have been hovering, it was this very living creature that made me wary of hanging around too long. Still I thought he was a handsome fella.


14 comments:

VioletSky said...

I can see where people might frown on so much real estate being taken up with these massive armchair graves, but I rather like the idea. Though maybe in a smaller, humbler size.

Gemma Wiseman said...

An armchair style grave - yes! But they also reminds me of a small amphitheatre - where voices travel, where acoustics are enhanced! There are Chinese graves at Sorrento on my Mornington Peninsula where the sides are lower but have a similar amphitheatre effect! Fascinating images!

s.c said...

Nice post.like it

biebkriebels said...

I like the idea of an armchair grave. It has something invinting, to have a rest there, but without a dog!

Deb said...

Interesting post, it certainly looks an impressive memorial, and the design gives a space for relatives to 'visit' with their ancestors.

EG CameraGirl said...

I learn so much from reading your blog. I had no idea Chinese have mixed feelings about cemeteries! O would have thought ancestor worship would make cemeteries popular places to spend quality time.

Andrea said...

Hello Francisca, so now you are here in time for the rains and floods in the city. How sad for your welcome! But at least i prefer these than the very hot dry season which just passed. How long will you be staying here this time?

I didn't know that the Chinese don't like staying in graves. I joined them once in Fujian lighting the firecrackers which for me is so amusing, because we use it celebrating happy times in New Year! I also noticed they used big space which can be equated as using too much of pricy real estates.

Julie said...

That final image of the arm-chair grave resembles to me a welcoming mother gathering up her offspring to protect them.

Fascinating reading this. In Rookwood there is a massive 'chinese' area which I must venture over to one of these days.

I am so pleased you post from China and other parts of the world. Puts what I see every week now in context. The world is a luminous place.

Nicola Carpenter said...

What a fascinating post and such a beautiful view for a grave.

Herding Cats

Anita Johnson said...

Not sure which post to leave a comment on so I randomly picked this one...I so enjoy seeing the world through your eyes...more personal than just reading an article...more behind the scenes. Thanks for taking me for the ride....or for the walk to the cemetery, in this case.

NixBlog said...

Very interesting post, Francisca. The last photo of the dog is great!

CaT said...

this is so interesting. so completely different from what i know! funny to read that it would be hard to find a taxi, and that your friend didnt want to join you to the cemetery.
how you think and what you do depends so much on where you are born, to certain extends, but still, it can make such a difference! i keep finding this fascinating...

FrankandMary said...

I'm for using less space. Boring, but...

Rita said...

I have never seen a grave done like this. Excellent photos and very interesting information.