The Funeral Cryer (excerpt) by Wenyan Lu
Emma Part, 26/9/23
An intriguing opening chapter that provides an interesting insight into traditional Chinese funeral traditions, whilst exploring and subverting the tradition of filial piety within a Chinese familial structure.
This opening chapter begins with arrangements being made for a village funeral, and we are thrown into a busy atmosphere of chopping, cooking and shouting as the funeral feast is prepared. The protagonist also has to prepare and memorise an obituary for her Great Great-Grandmother, which lists in close detail her life achievements as a family-maker. There are also in-depth descriptions of funeral attire. These details were intriguing to someone like myself, who has little to no awareness of these kind of traditions. I enjoyed being exposed to the intricacies and rituals associated with grieving in Chinese culture, and it was fascinating to compare these with my own experience of funerals and grief.
In Chinese culture, filial piety is of great importance. That is, family loyalty and respecting one’s elders and ancestors is at the core of the Chinese familial structure. This is evident in the extensive preparations for the funeral, and the almost performative expressions of grief, through clothing and ‘funeral crying’. Although family is still an important part of my own culture, it was interesting to witness the extent that Chinese families will go to honour the family matriarch.
What sets this novel apart is the brutally honest attitude of the protagonist and narrative voice. She openly admits that the death of her great-great-grandmother brought relief and joy to her life, as it finally provided her with her inheritance money. From her perspective, the funeral is a performance, an opportunity to prove her loyalty to the family through dramatic proclamations of grief, through which she encourages members of the procession to cry and express their own grief.
Written from her perspective, these expressions of grief do not seem genuine, rather as a way to prove to herself and other members of the family that she is deserving of her inheritance. This is an interesting subversion of the tradition of filial piety, as it demonstrates the protagonist follows this tradition in the performative sense, but does not actually believe in it. It is an interesting perspective to follow, and lead me to question whether young members of the family actually respect these traditions, or whether they just see them as a way to gain social merit within their family.