Death concept and urban space: taking an example of Beijing from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century

JU Xi1

(1.China Academy of Social Management/School of Sociology, Beijing Normal University)

【Abstract】In modern cities, the worlds of the living and the dead are completely separated. However, in Beijing before the 1950s, this distinction was not obvious. After the middle ages of the Qing Dynasty, Beijing citizens did not completely follow the funeral rituals stipulated in Zhuzi Jiali. Funeral practices of the folk follow a quite systemic and fixed procedure, generally including three stages, where the deceased would encounter three kinds of danger correspondingly. The living descendants need to help the deceased to make a smooth transition to the final stage, which includes farewell to the souls of the dead, keeping the coffin temporarily at a place and the burial. Such death concepts determine that the corpse will not be completely isolated from the living being for a long time before it is buried. The living often pays farewell to the deceased at the waterside, especially alongside the largest body of water in Beijing—Shichahai. Therefore, the Shichahai area is considered as an entryway to the netherworld and a space reserved for ghosts. Nearly 100 temples not only provide space for keeping coffins temporarily, but also rent rooms to the living. The temples are virtually hotels or low-rent houses that are shared by the living and the dead. Meanwhile, the cemetery is not only a place for the dead; it also serves as an important landscape, where the living can get rested, entertained, reunited, or embrace ancestral spirits with a new lease of life. The way in which death is handled profoundly affects people’s perceptions and cognition of the environment, which further influences how people plan and use urban space. The modernity revolution brought about by the Japanese invasion fundamentally subverts peoples’ attitudes towards death and corpses. The spheres of the living and the dead are strictly divided, which finally contributes to the formation of a modern urban spatial landscape.

【Keywords】 Beijing in the Qing Dynasty; death concept; funeral rituals; urban space; landscape;

【DOI】

【Funds】 The National Social Science Fund of China (15CZJ020)

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(Translated by ZHU Xiangyin)

    Footnote

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    [7]. Xian Chuang Lu Meng is a diary manuscript about Bannermen’s life in the inner city. It is written in Manchu language in 1820. The writer is Mu Xianqi, who was born on lunar December 8 in 1801. He was a servant working in Department of the Interior, coming from the lower class. The diary records events that happened during 1828–1830. [^Back]

    [8]. ⑥ As for this question, please refer to Ju, X. Journal of Xuzhou Institute of Technology (Social Sciences Edition) (徐州工程学院学报 (社会科学版)). (2): 1–8 (2017). [^Back]

    [9]. ① As for the feature, content and subjects of the survey, please refer to Marianne Bujuard. TEMPLES ET STELES DE PEKIN. Ju, X. & Xu, M. (trans.) Beijing: National Library of China Publishing House, (2011). [^Back]

    [10]. ② Many scholars have confirmed the value of notebook writings in recording history. For example, Robert Company thought ghost stories are not fictional, rather recordings of provable ideas. Edward Davis argued that anecdotage of ancient China is not only hearsays, but documents of lives recorded from a personal perspective. Relevant discussion can be seen in Kang, X. The Cult of The Fox (说狐). Hangzhou: Zhejiang University Press, 11 (2011). [^Back]

    [11]. ③ Beijing Municipal Archives. Cemetery Regulations and the Provisional Statutes of banning the keeping of coffins, promulgated by Ministry of the Interior (内政部公布公墓条例及取缔停柩暂行章程). Document number: J1-2-120, 1939. [^Back]

    [12]. ④ There are about 11 archives recording this research, all of which are currently stored at Beijing Municipal Archives. [^Back]

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    [14]. ① In addition, there are other procedures like chengfu (dressing mourning clothes according to rituals), and yuji (sacrificial rituals on the midday of the burial). But they do not have direct relations with corpses, hence are not listed here. [^Back]

    [15]. ② Based on Xian Chuang Lu Meng and Weddings and Funerals. More details are included in Ju, X. Journal of Xuzhou Institute of Technology (Social Sciences Edition) (徐州工程学院学报 (社会科学版)), (2): 1–8 (2017). (Qing) Mu, Q. 闲窗录梦译编. Zhao, L. & Guan, K. (trans.) Beijing: China Minzu University Press, (2011). [^Back]

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    [20]. ② There would be detailed discussion about this figure later in this paper. [^Back]

    [21]. ③ About the relationship between gods, ancestors and ghosts, see Arthur P. Wolf, Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors, in Wolf, A. P., ed., Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society, Stanford University Press, 1974, pp. 131–182. [^Back]

    [22]. ④ There has been large amounts of studies about the relations between feng shui and cemeteries, like in Maurice Freedman, Geomancy, proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1968, pp. 5–15. Ahem Emily, M., The Cult of the Dead in a Chinese Village, Stanford University Press, 1973. Stephan Feuchtwang, An Anthropological Analysis of Chinese Geomancy, Vithagna, Taipei, 1974. [^Back]

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    [27]. ② Based on Hou, R. The Map of Beijing City in the Republic of China (北京历史地图集). Beijing: Beijing Publishing Group, (1997). [^Back]

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    [30]. ② Respondent: Mr. Wang, male, 1947. Inquirer: Ju, X. et al. Time: October 4, 2005. Place: Wang’s home in Longtoujing. [^Back]

    [31]. ③ Respondent: Mr. Sheng, 1933. Inquirer: Ju, X. et al. Time: December, 2003. Place: Sheng’s home in Dongsi 12th Lane. [^Back]

    [32]. ④ The First Historical Archives of China collected palace memorials of Imperial Household Department in Qing Dynasty. One of them is “the number of repaired rooms in official temples like Sanguan Temple” on the twelfth day of May in the thirty-fifth year of Qianlong’s reign. Document number: 05-0277-031. [^Back]

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    [34]. ⑥ Beijing Municipal Archives. Questionnaires of Places for Keeping Coffins within the Boundaries of Inner Four Districts in Beiping City and Files for Claiming Corpses and Changing Burial Places, 1944. Document number: J183-002-25922. [^Back]

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    [36]. ① This is the statement made by Buddhist abbot Shan Guo of Wenchang Temple. See Beijing Municipal Archives. Registered Temple Property of Buddhist Monk Shan Guo in Wenchang Temple in the Inner Five Districts and Petition Paper of Fa Kui Taking the Place of Abbot and Instructions from the Social Bureau, 1930–1939. Document number: J2-8-114. [^Back]

    [37]. ② Respondent: Mrs. Wang, female, 1950. Inquirer: Ju, X. et al. Time: November 6, 2014. Place: Wenchang Palace in Mao’er Hutong. [^Back]

    [38]. ③ Respondent: Mrs. Li, female, 1930. Inquirer: Ju, X. et al. Time: September, 2006. Place: Jiuding Niangniang Temple, No. 175, Yonghegong Lama Temple Street. [^Back]

    [39]. ④ Respondent: Mr. You, 1952. Inquirer: Ju, X. et al. Time: March 15, 2015. Place: Bao’an Temple on Di’anmen West Street. [^Back]

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    [43]. ⑧ The author of A Brief History of Funeral and Burial Practice in Beijing thinks there are a total of 73 tingling temples and 130 burial grounds for the destitute in Beijing. However, no sources are provided in the book, therefore, the figure can be only used for reference only. Zhou, J. 北京殡葬史话. Beijing: BeijingYanshan Press, (2002). [^Back]

    [44]. ⑨ Based on The Map of Beijing City in the Republic of China drawn by Hou Renzhi. [^Back]

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    [46]. ② According to Wang’s memory, she moved into Wenchang Zitong Temple in Di’anmen West Street in the 1950s, living in a converted house near qiuzi. At that time, the backyard of the temple was full of coffins, which were moved away after her residence. Respondent: Mrs. Wang, female, 1950. Inquirer: Ju, X. et al. Time: November 6, 2014. Place: Wenchang Zitong Temple in Di’anmen West Street. [^Back]

    [47]. ③ (Qing) Chongyi: Miscellaneous Records of the Court and the Commonalty Since the Years of Daoguang and Xianfeng (道咸以来朝野杂记). Beijing: Beijing Classics Publishing House, 26 (1982). [^Back]

    [48]. ④ There are also some family cemeteries, not always yidi or congzang places. [^Back]

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    [53]. ⑤ Requoted from (Republic of China) Li, J. (compiled). A Compendium of Beiping Customs (北平风俗类征). Beijing: Beijing Publishing Group, 77 (2010). [^Back]

    [54]. Xian Chuang Lu Meng, pp. 102. [^Back]

    [55]. Xian Chuang Lu Meng, pp. 118. [^Back]

    [56]. ① See Beijing Municipal Archives. Cemetery Regulations and the Provisional Statutes of Banning the Keeping of Coffins, promulgated by Ministry of the Interior. 1939. Document number: J001-002-00120. [^Back]

    [57]. ② See Beijing Municipal Archives. Reports about Investigation on Inner Equipment of Nongsheng Alkali Manufacturer, Establishment of Fumin Soap and Alkali Factory, Random Behavior of Monks’ Keeping Coffins in Jiaxing Temple, and Shop Handover Agreements by Inner Fifth District Branch Department of the Beiping City Police. 1944. Document number: J183-002-28754. [^Back]

    [58]. ③ See Beijing Municipal Archives. A report of the Ban on Coffins Keeping in Temples by Beiping City Police. 1948. Document number: J181-016-02568. [^Back]

This Article

ISSN:1000-4289

CN: 11-1299/B

Vol , No. 06, Pages 25-28+38+29-37

December 2017

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Article Outline

Abstract

  • 1 Scope of study and choice of materials
  • 2 Death rituals and related practices
  • 3 Concept of death: three stages and three dangerous situations
  • 4 Urban space shaped by the concept of death
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