“Dad, beware, the mountain is caught on fire.” “爹,火烧山了,闪开点啊“

(Note: English below Chinese text.)

二0一二年四月九日晚,我的伯公(我外公的哥哥)温全芳在曾田镇(蒲竹所属镇)的家中去世,享年95岁。

伯公的葬礼对于我,是一个艰难的局面。它是《蒲竹纪事》的一部分,我必须记录它。因此,我是一个记录者。同时,我又是伯公的亲戚,自小对他有感情。他在我出生的时候,拿我的生辰八字算卦,对母亲说,我长大后,是“捉笔的”。事实上,但凡我们家有大事发生,比如入伙新居,父亲的大生日等事宜,都要请教伯公。他是我母亲这个家族中最有智慧的人, 也是蒲竹村最有文化的人,通天文地理,懂绘画,一辈子教书育人,在村里很受尊敬。在伯公的葬礼中,我常常不知道是该和母亲一同烧香、跪拜,还是该拍摄。我后来发现自己有时和亲戚们一起烧香、跪拜,有时则在拍摄。我很感激伯公的直系亲属给我完全的自由拍摄。

按当地客家的风俗,伯公的去世年龄算百岁——因为四舍五入的缘故。因此,这丧事不算白事,当红事来办。对联是红色的。出殡时亲友所戴的孝带也是红色的。红色的寿线被认为是非常吉祥的物品,会保佑我们,应该永久保留。因为这葬礼是“红事”,来奔丧的许多亲友并没有悲戚之情。他们似乎更像是趁机来相聚似的。葬礼中,笑声和哭声相交替。

伯公的葬礼既简单,又复杂。说它简单是因为许多繁复的礼节都被省略了。说它复杂,则是因为这场葬礼糅合了许多看来向冲突的元素。没有请和尚念经,却请了近年来颇流行的鼓乐队。乐队同时管放礼炮。乐队共七人,都穿红色制服——因为这是“红事”。让我颇觉奇怪的是,家属要求乐队穿红色的制服,自己却并没有按传统的习俗披麻戴孝。

伯公去世的次日,从下午四点到晚十点,音乐不断,或唱或奏或通过电脑播放mp3。所唱、所奏、所放的音乐五花八门,有哀乐进行曲,有流行歌,比如《大约在冬季》、《我是潮州人》,有民乐,如《在那桃花盛开的地方》,有电视剧插曲,如《枉凝眉》、《好人一生平安》,有宗教音乐,如《大悲咒》,还播放了中国的国歌。这奇怪的曲目单,似乎映衬了中国的现状:一个集合了古、今、中、外元素的蒙太奇,纷乱繁杂,总处在变化之中,包含了许多不确定的因素。

乐队还每隔二十分钟就响一次礼炮。那是西式的礼炮,样子与战场上的炮火无异,有21条炮管。礼炮震天价响。 十点后,礼炮暂停,但乐队通宵不眠地工作,将音响的音量调低了,继续放音乐。到第三日凌晨五点,礼炮又响起,音乐的音量又被调高。没有邻居抱怨,因为都知道这是对死者的致敬。没人敢和死人过不去。

因为伯公是领工资的人,他不能土葬,只能火葬。若土葬,政府将取消两千元的送葬费和伯公去世后二十个月的工资补贴,要追究其家属的法律责任,还可能采取一些强硬措施阻止土葬,这可能是对死者的最大冒犯。火葬是客家老人所害怕的。我记得外婆去世前几次说,“最怕火烧。”不知道传统的伯公是否有同样的恐惧心理。在伯公入炉前,他的儿媳妇如此念叨:“爹,火烧山了,闪开点啊,闪开点啊。”不知道伯公能否听到。

(更多图片:http://chenxphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/Puzhu-Quanfang-Wens-Funeral/G0000iezCOIYY1Ag/

Quanfang Wen, my grand uncle (my grandfather’s brother), 95, passed way  at his home in Zengtian on the evening of April 9, 2012.  The news caught me by surprise.  I put down what I did and went to the funeral with my mother immediately.

During the funeral, I found myself trapped between in and out. With him as the oldest, the most cultured and the most respected man from Puzhu, and one who represented a generation whose education was NOT communist,  Quanfang’s funeral was an important part of my project “Puzhu in Transition.” I knew I had to photograph it.  Fortunately, my uncles, aunts and cousins all supported my project, though they might not understand why I did it.  Yet still, I found it quite discomfiting to raise my camera in the whole process.  Often I couldn’t decide whether I should kneel with my mother by the body – and I really wanted to, or should step away to take pictures.  In the end, I did half and half.

More often, I wanted to mourn his death and do nothing else, as he was an important figure in our extended family.  Whenever something important was to be planned, my parents would seek advice from my granduncle, who studied The Book of Change (“Yi Ching”), Fengshui, and was the wisest man among our relatives.  When I was born, he made a prediction based on his knowledge of “Yi Ching” that I would be making a living with a pen when I grew up, which is exactly what I do now.

According to the local  customs, Quanfang’s age of death was considered 100 instead of 95. This was calculated based Chinese lunar calendar and the roundup system. This number made the funeral a “red” (happy) event instead of a “white” (sad) one.  It meant he lived a long and happy life.  So the couplets put on the wall around the door to announce his death were red.  The ribbons we wore  around the arms while sending him off to the other world were also red.   And there were red longevity threads, which we still keep because they would bless us with longevity and happiness.  Because of this, some relatives didn’t show grief during the funeral, as if this was more an opportunity for family reunion than a grieving time.  In fact, the funeral did function to bring the scattered family together and allowed us to catch up with each other.  For the two days I was there, laughter intertwined with tears.

This funeral was the first Chinese one I’ve been to or photographed. It was neither completely traditional nor modern, but like a montage that included a bit of everything. Some old ways were excluded while western ways were introduced – and really twisted.

There were no monks doing the ceremony, but a western orchestra was hired to sing and play music. The play list included pop songs, Buddhist prayers, The Funeral March (which is usually played at state level funerals), folk songs, love songs, and TV theme songs for “Red Mansion Dreams.”

The orchestra’s service also included firing deafening 21-gun salutes every 20 minutes from 4 p.m. till 10 p.m. on the first day of the funeral, then from 5 a.m. till the cremation started around noon the next day.   (They accompanied the funeral procession to the cremation home 50 kilometers away.)  No neighbors complained about the deafening 21-gun salutes, because on one in China would dare to offend the dead.  Once dead, a man becomes a powerful spirit, whom on one should offend.  This is typical Chinese culture.  If you like to know more and why, maybe you want to read an ethnography called “Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors” by David K. Jordan.

The orchestra was required to wear their red uniforms during the whole time.  However, we  ourselves didn’t wear the traditional funeral costumes like in the old times.  We didn’t even dress properly in my opinion.  I asked several times how I  should dress myself.  The answer was “as usual.”  It would be terribly disrespectful if it were in the United States.

As Quanfang Wen retired as a teacher from a public school, received pensions – till 20 months AFTER his death, plus a ¥2000.00 funeral aid, it was impossible to bury him, which is illegal any way.  Cremation was the only legal way to reach the other world in Communist China, by the way.  If his family broke the funeral law, all those after-death benefits would be canceled.  Besides, the government might do something that would evoke the spirit of the dead, like digging the tomb, which was the least thing the family would like to see.  So his body was sent to the cremation home.

Most old Hakka people feared to be cremated. Cremation meant hell to people like my grandmother. She expressed  her fear of being cremated many times before she died, but she still ended up in a furnace nine years ago.  As Quanfang’s coffin slid into the furnace, we waited by the window, watching him (really his coffin). His daughter-in-law murmured,  “Dad, beware, the mountain is on fire.”  I wondered if he could hear her.

(More image here: http://chenxphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/Puzhu-Quanfang-Wens-Funeral/G0000iezCOIYY1Ag/)

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