Every different culture has their own way of illustrating the afterlife. Today, I watched a Hong Kong film called Written By (2009) and I thought, I would give a little piece of my mind about the Chinese way of dying.
Death is not something that Chinese people like to talk about. No one ever speaks of it because it is ‘unlucky’ if you mention it out of nowhere. When you speak of unlucky things, you will be asked (by grandparents mostly) to spit and say other things. I guess growing up in an environment that does not allow me to embrace the idea of a natural course of life such as death, when it finally arrives to someone/something around me, it hits hard.
First, you have to know that the Chinese customs comes from different religions but mostly Buddhism. We believe in Samsara (an eternal cycle of life) and Karma(for real). When you die, you will be judged by the Hell God based on your last life. If you behaved good, you can continue to be human and have a good next life. HOWEVER, if you were a douche or did something horrible, you will become a pig or a dog (animals in general) in your next life. After you have been judged, you will have to drink the Mengpo Soup 孟婆湯 (or Grandma Meng’s Soup). The soup will make you forget everything from your past life after you go pass the Naihe River 奈何橋 (or Bridge of Helplessness). It is described as the entrance to the living world. If you do not eat the soup, you will not be able to let go of the things in your past life and stay as a wandering ghost, never to be reborn again.
Unlike Christianity, Chinese culture does not have a heaven or any divine place for one to end up after mortal death. The worst of all(and the reason why I am writing this article) is that you forget. Drinking Mengpo’s Soup will make you forget everything you have ever perceived through your five senses. Everything you have ever done. Everyone you have ever loved.
Applying it to ‘you’ is not really persuasive much. Imagine the love of your life forgetting you forever and ever, even if he/she comes back in another life, you will not know each other. The deceased will only live in our memories, until we die and our memory is taken. Memory is important, without memory, nothing we have ever done or will do will be known or recognised. That is what the Chinese way of dying takes away, the memory of everything.
I have lost two very important family members in my life so far. My grandpa and my cat (People judge me for loving a cat so much but he was family). I could not (still cannot) cope with it because I was not taught to accept death. The mere thought of them forgetting me, forgetting us, forgetting everything we had ever shared, is terrifying. Death is such a ridiculous concept, someone was here yesterday and the next day, we are separated by death.
Till Death does us apart. A haunting sentence in the end of a wedding vow, I always think. In Christians’ world, you go to Heaven after you die and you get to unite with your deceased and loved ones. So, death does not really do you apart, just separate for the rest of your mortal life until you are basked in the glory of God in Heaven.
Not for Chinese people (or specially, people who believe in the Chinese tradition). You die, you get judged, you forget, and you come back as a different person. There is no memory left in you. And the memories of you in other people will be washed when they die. It is an endless cycle. The cruellest part of it all is that it does not haunt the dead, it haunts the living.
I don’t believe that. I refuse to believe that.