China / Society

Burials at sea keep cycle of nature flowing

By Zhao Yanrong (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-04 07:10

The first funeral I attended was in 2009, when I covered a sea burial hosted by the Beijing municipal government for local residents.

Before that, funerals, in my mind, were about black suits, solemn music and endless crying. The bereaved family is often busy hosting many mourners. Friends often burned offerings of paper money at funerals to wish the dead a wealthy life in another world. But the smell made the whole gathering even more heartbreaking, depressing and scary.

A funeral at sea, on the other hand, was a fuzzy concept that I seldom ran across even on television.

At 5:30 am one day late in February 2009, 94 people from 40 families gathered. Some were carrying dark-red urns, and some were holding bouquets of flowers.

It was a stark contrast to the traffic jams, air pollution, crowds and hubbub that characterize memorial activities during Tomb Sweeping Day.

Yu Lianjie's mother died 19 years ago and her ashes had been stored at a cemetery in Shijingshan district in Beijing until 2009, when the cemetery was closed.

"We registered for a sea burial for my mother in April 2008, when my father was still with us," Yu said.

"After my father passed away, the organizers were very caring and allowed us to hold a ceremony for both of my parents together."

Yu said many of her family's friends and colleagues were considering sea burials.

"We believe that human beings come from nature, so we should return to nature after we die," Yu said.

At sunrise, two buses transported family members from Beijing to Tanggu, where the ashes would be scattered into the waters of the Bohai Sea.

Two and a half hours later, all the family members were on board a boat that cruised slowly on the sunlit water.

Accompanied by soft music, an official called out the names of the deceased. Family members walked out on deck. Yu put flower petals into her parents' urns and poured them together into the sea through a pipe at the end of the boat.

"Mom and Dad, may you rest in peace," Yu said through tears.

"When I sent a pigeon flying from my hands as part of the ceremony, I felt like I was seeing my parents' souls soar into the sky," Yu said. "We will return to the sea next year to remember them."

For the first time, I felt that death was not so forbidding - that people's lives could be part of the cycle of nature.

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