Learning from old Chinese graves in Australia

The precise indication of the origin of the deceased in grave inscriptions in the early Chinese community in Australia found no equivalent in the case of the old gravestones of the dominant group of European settlers. The main reason for this was that traditional Chinese settlers commonly had the culturally influenced yearning to have their remains returned to the place of their birth after death. However, sometimes due to the individual circumstances of the deceased, this was not always possible. Chinese folk beliefs are earth-based – “pagan”, so to speak -, hence the location of earth, namely Chinese or Australian, is significant. In essence and traditionally speaking, the Chinese deceased cannot be at home unless his or her remains find their final resting place in the soil of their birthplace. For the Chinese, to have one’s corpse buried permanently in Australia would create the postmortem condition of a wandering, restless spirit. European Christian beliefs, in contrast, are otherworldly based – the soul of the deceased returns to God, no matter where one dies, and provided one is not condemned to hell through unforgiven “mortal sins” committed while on earth.

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