Cultural Contrasts in Funeral Customs: China vs. US

Exploring Cultural Contrasts: Funeral Etiquette in China and the US

Understanding cultural differences is an enlightening journey, and Schmitt's travel narrative delves into the nuances between Chinese and American cultures, shedding light on various aspects such as cohabitation, bereavement, and funeral customs. This essay will explore these cultural disparities with a particular focus on funeral etiquette, offering insights into the distinct practices observed in each society.

1. Funeral Etiquette: A Tale of Varied Customs

Within the narrative, Schmitt portrays the cultural contrasts in funeral etiquette between China and the United States.

For instance, in Chinese culture, it is socially acceptable to appear in common areas dressed in underclothing, a practice vastly different from the norms in America, where such an act would be deemed inappropriate and possibly attract law enforcement intervention. The narrative unfolds the divergences in grieving customs, emphasizing the significance of white floors as a preferred color for mourning in China. Despite the disparity in practices, the author highlights the appreciation extended by the Chinese family for the gesture, underlining the importance of attending the funeral service.

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Another distinctive aspect of Chinese funeral etiquette is the tradition of wearing a black swatch of cloth on the sleeve to identify oneself as a member of the funeral party. This visual marker serves as a poignant symbol, distinct from American customs, where mourners may not have such explicit identifiers. The procession with the casket to the crematorium, coupled with the unique practice of paying extra for individual cremation, further underscores the divergent approaches to dealing with loss.

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The ritual of removing the black swatch and placing it in an outdoor fireplace, accompanied by a symbolic leap forward to assist the departed in "transcending the gap between life and death," adds an emotional layer to the narrative.

2. Living Under One Roof: Unveiling the Discrepancy

Schmitt employs a fictitious paragraph to vividly articulate her idealized vision of living in common housing in China. She envisions a scenario where she would casually engage in conversations with fellow residents, sipping green tea in the late afternoon while discussing their lives in Chinese. This imaginative depiction starkly contrasts with the reality she encounters, where the other occupants of the communal dwelling barely acknowledge her presence, let alone engage in meaningful conversation. This disparity serves as a poignant reminder of the divide between expectations and reality, offering readers a glimpse into the challenges of cross-cultural cohabitation.

Furthermore, Schmitt skillfully describes the interactions in the hallways, providing readers with a nuanced understanding of the dynamics between her and the other residents. The stark contrast between her envisioned scenario and the cold reality emphasizes the complexities of cross-cultural living arrangements. Additionally, the detailed account of the funeral adds depth to the narrative, enabling readers to grasp the author's observations and emotions surrounding loss.

3. Funeral and Cremation: Unraveling Cultural Layers

A significant portion of the article is dedicated to the funeral and cremation experiences, offering readers a profound exploration of the cultural disparities between American and Chinese practices. The author's motivation in delving extensively into these rituals extends beyond mere cultural exposition; it serves as a vehicle for the author to reflect on personal feelings of loss. The narrative weaves together the author's emotional connection to the death of her grandfather, who passed away before her birth, and the poignant loss of the "buzz-cut grandpa" she had come to anticipate seeing.

The ritual of cremation, particularly the concept of paying extra for individual cremation in China, serves as a stark contrast to American cultural norms. In the United States, such a practice would likely be met with outrage, highlighting the profound differences in perspectives on handling the deceased. The symbolic act of wearing a black patch on the sleeve, akin to the black garters worn in certain American funerals, adds depth to the cross-cultural comparison, providing readers with a tangible connection to familiar practices amidst the unfamiliar.

Authors' Tone: Respecting Cultural Diversity

Schmitt's tone throughout the article is characterized by a sense of respect and gratitude, steering away from somber undertones. At no point does the author evoke a desire for the reader to feel sadness; instead, the narrative exudes an earnest desire to be an integral part of the community cohabiting under one roof. The author's respect for cultural differences and the eagerness to immerse herself in the daily lives of a foreign country is palpable, creating a narrative that fosters understanding and appreciation for the diverse intricacies of the world.

In conclusion, Schmitt's travel narrative offers a captivating exploration of the disparities in funeral etiquette between China and the United States. Through vivid descriptions and personal reflections, the author brings to light the intricate cultural nuances surrounding cohabitation, bereavement, and funeral practices. This narrative serves not only as a window into the divergent customs of these two nations but also as a reflection on the universal aspects of loss and the human experience.

Updated: Jan 21, 2024
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Cultural Contrasts in Funeral Customs: China vs. US. (2016, Mar 02). Retrieved from

Cultural Contrasts in Funeral Customs: China vs. US essay
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