Chinese Taoist funeral guide for the Dummies

I am going to write this down before memory fails me in future. Anyway…choi, choi, choi, it is not something I want to encounter at all so let this be the last there is.

Today, at the funeral, I wore the ‘black’ pangkat. Fuyoh, damn emo, I tell you. You see, mourners have ‘rankings’. Let me write this down :

Gunny sack type, pinned on the left hand collar – For the children
Gunny sack with red cloth – For the godchildren
Black cloth – For the younger brothers and sisters and cousins
Black with yellow – For the grandchildren (from the daughter) I think blue/black for the son’s children
Blue – For the children of the siblings, i.e. the nephews
Green – For the great grandchildren of the nephews

As a child, I had always been fascinated with this concept of heaven and hell. To make things easy to understand, there are drawings to depicts hell and all its torture chambers.

When a person died, the person will go through a few things. With an elaborate Taoist style grand funeral rites, here are some of the steps done.

1) Calling the departed souls of the deceased family. E.g. They have a ceremony to call the souls of the deceased parents, elder relatives and etc to join in the feast. Foods are laid out on the offering table.



The nun (in gray) will sing some Teochew songs about being a filial child and she acted out the scene of climbing hills and falling down etc to pluck herbs to cure the deceased. Then, she will boil the herbs. Real charcoal stove with real boiling water. The leaves are guava leaves. Normally, the eldest daughter-in-law will kneel there to fan the fire and then, boil the pot of leaves for a while. After that, she will pour a bowl of the ‘soup’ and offer to the deceased. I had done it for my mother-in-law. Damn sad kind of rite. Real smoke, real fire, real boiling water and real tears. (in the absence of DIL, the daughter will do it)



When the deceased has been healed, then, the monk will fight with some demon to get through to the city (of heaven, I think). There are costumes drama with spears and kungfu. The city has four gates and once the doors are broken…..


Then, the eldest son will carry the luggages to send off the deceased to the city. He will carry a stick and balancing on both ends are rice. I have the video but it is not polite for me to show it. So you imagine the son carrying (kandar) the heavy load and run around the four gates in a maze. The monk will run around in circles and the son will follow. It is not easy because the load is heavy and he has to follow exactly the steps the monk took.


Firstly, the nun will plead with their kind of St. Peter. The guy with very fierce looking face (make-up) will carry a book and jot down all the good deeds of the persons.

When that has been done, all the mourners will then go around this bridge. It is a modified bridge and we went around in circles. The mourners will be led by this other nun and the saddest part is when it was the final round. She will cry real tears and leaving farewell messages. My little boy said, “Why the auntie sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks?” The good thing is I do not understand Teochew so it is not as sad.


Finally, all the paper houses and paper money are burnt in a bonfire. All the mourners will go around the mulbery bush kind of circle and leave when the fire gets too big.

A ceremony like the above usually costs more than RM4K. I think the going price now is probably RM5K-6K for that 4-5 hours of funeral rites. I think there are least 10 people involves, including monks, nuns and musicians. The thing about such spending is usually, if the bereaved family feels comforted to do it and wish to do it for the sake of the deceased, the money will somehow finds it way. I mean, if you can afford it and you think the deceased would ‘enjoy’ it, do it and somehow, you will collect enough bereavement donations to cover the costs. Please do not ever chide people for spending the money and not donating it to charity. I feel we have to respect bereaved people’s wishes. (my rant here) But don’t ever spend it with the hope of reaping good returns by way of asking the deceased to bless you. Then, it is a selfish thing to do.

Now that other faiths understand the rationale of such elaborate funeral rites, do you agree that whatever was done, it was done with filial piety and not just superstitious beliefs?

The chief monk whom I call soo-hoo (sifu) asked me if I enjoyed the show. *grins*

*hands out angpow and sweets to every reader for reading such morbid stuffs*

24 thoughts on “Chinese Taoist funeral guide for the Dummies

  1. good one, well at least i know how it is now, i always afraid of funeral for some reasons.. and the way u describe dont seems so scary 😛

  2. This is fascinating. I used to see funerals and grieving practices in Penang when I lived there as a child, but didn’t understand it. I was particularly intrigued by the paper houses with paper cars and even a paper chauffeur. I also wondered about the burning of the paper money with the little silver rectangles in the middle.

    People’s beliefs about death and the afterlife are very strong, and I think we have to respect them, especially when they are grieving.

    Thanks for posting this.

  3. when my ah pa passed away, i couldnt help myself but laughed when we rushed thro the city gates with the ‘tou see’… i had to carry something on my shoulder too..very light hearted that lightened up the moody atmospheres. i am sure my ah pa enjoyed watching too…

  4. Very interesting. Me thinks its the very last thing that the children can do for the deceased, and wateva is asked to be done will be done to make sure the loved one masuk ‘city’safely. I have a fren’s father who passed away, and she worried that he wasn’t fed enuff , dressed warm enuff.. etc. So all rituals done to gerenti a better afterlife. An act of filial piety indeed. In thailand, men becum monks once in thier lifetime so that the parents can go to heaven. Usually u do good so U can go, but this one lain sikit. U doing it for ur parents.Ultimate filial piety .

    Kis last blog post..Petrol Nike Day

  5. To those who do not understand Taoism, the bereavement practice may seem like an illogical patch work. Taoism is the finest philosophy, unfortunately, misinterpreted by half past six taoist monk and followed by uninformed Chinese immigrants. Hence the end result is what you all see in the present practice. What an unfortunate result of this superb philosophy. Taoism is not a religion, it is 5000 years Chinese philosophy.

  6. But then again, are all these rites classified as being filial?

    I know a person whom couldn’t care less when his mother was alive. Ignored her, didn’t speak to her much. But when she died, he ‘performed’ the funeral so dramatic and grand.

    Guess what? He his treating his father the same now. Sigh.

  7. lilian, you are setting a standard that’s hard for any christian or catholics to follow.

    you went so near to the border line where people have refuse to tread. bravo.


  8. Lilian, my purpose is to let the readers understand the fine philosophy of Taoism and not to blame. Unfortunately you may need certain standard of Chinese to fathom, not many of we Malaysian Chinese are able to do it.

  9. That’s exactly my point – the medium of communication. Many Chinese do not read Mandarin and hence, the original teaching is lost so we relied on whatever distorted things given to us. I was a Taoist/Buddhist for 38 years, much longer than I am a Christian.

  10. At my grandma’s funeral they had a paper plane and a paper slot machine since she loved the pokies. I was the first grandson and took over the running for my father as he was unable to do so.

    Some differences in my grandparents and great grandpa’s funerals were, there were actually two sons following in the running parts and we actually crossed the bridge near the end. Whilst walking around and across this bridge, we dropped money into a bucket of water and span sum kind of lantern (also no idea what it symbolises).

    They also had another part in addition to ‘breaking down the city gates’ where nuns of different colours (with matching flags) and 2 sons (2 grandsons in our case) ran around a set of 5 tables but I have no idea what it symbolises.

    The colours schemes were different. All our clothes also changed according to rank and we wore hats and sashs.

    These funerals went for a few hours for each of the 5 days filled with lots of chanting/singing. Costs were also alot higher.

    Don’t think i will ever experience another funeral the same. Hopefully the tradition of these funerals don’t die down and disappear.

  11. Yes funeral usually last abt 5 – 7 days , and thereafter, what abt the 7 X 7 weeks, 100 days, and the annual affair of the pass-on. Which I have not been heard off.
    Can someone tell something abt it, and how it shud go untill 3years.

    Thank you

  12. Hi..i jz wanna ask bout the part of the boiling water with the guava leaves… What happens if there’s no daughter in law and also no daughter?

  13. Edric – Normally such ceremonies are offered for those very old and with children. And sometimes, if they have none, they will ‘adopt’ one after the death. Like for eg if a man doesn’t have a son to carry the ‘tong huan’ the bamboo stick, they will find a godson to do it.

  14. Lilian – thanks for the info.. there’s another thing i forgot to ask u, y does the daughter(s) & daughter(s) in law doesn’t take part in the bridge ceremony?

  15. Edric – There are two things. The bridge run is for all the descendants, blood relations. Bridge run is where they place a basin of water to make it like river and we throw coins into the basin as we go around, like mulberry bush.

    But there is the city run. LOL. The city run is only for sons/sons of sons, i.e. paternal grandson where they carry the luggages, usually two baskets filled with rice, and they have to strictly follow the steps of the sai kong (taiost priest), i.e. running in the same directions. Only sons/grandsons carry that load. It is quite tough run albeit the city is just a small bamboo/paper structure with four doors.

    Ask me anything. I am almost qualified to be a Taoist undertaker LOL.

  16. Oic, thanks again for the info Lilian. But from what i heard, ladies who r having their period are not suppose to take part in the ceremony, any particular reason?

  17. taoist monk actualy are address taoist priest not monk, monk are for those are bald head, leave home person,buddhist custom.from the picture you post those are actualy not 100% taiost priest,in hokkien are call sai kon not tao shi.true taoist priest robe are different , you can check it at wiki and buddhist nun in the picture are address as cai koi and their are lay person not nun.filial child story are actualy from buddhist lore,and when their boid the meedicine ,they chant the medicine buddha mantra and stanza,ti zha wang pusa or guan yin amd amitahba buddha. the real taoist way is diffrent and their ceremony is more elaborete cost more RM.

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