Rapid modernisation has no doubt brought about modifications of various Chinese rituals in Singapore. From the placement of deities’ altars, to the observance of the Hungry Ghost Festival, rites and rituals are adapted to the changing urban landscape. Urbanisation, in particular, has affected the practice of funerary rites, since funeral wakes are no longer confined to the private family space or ancestral hall. In Singapore, most funeral wakes and processions are held in HDB void decks and their immediate areas.
In fact, it is not uncommon to find many faces peering from windows at the funeral procession that is ongoing in the HDB carpark as the hearse makes it way to the columbarium. While strangers or those unrelated to the deceased prefer to avoid the funeral wakes, they do not shy away from commenting on the scale and performance of funerary rituals, and the funeral procession which follows. Some of their observations include the identification of dialect group based on the type of funeral rituals performed, and the deceased’s religious affiliation based on the funeral set-up and its paraphernalia.
Such major traditions provide frameworks of meaning to funeral practices. However, they also allow for local variations unique to dialect groups. In Singapore, religion plays a significant role in the maintenance of a Singapore Chinese identity especially when the policy of categorising a person according to race and religious affiliation has shaped the way Singaporeans understand their world. However, dialect groups are not often used as part of official categorisations of identity. The increasing use of English and Mandarin in most occasions, which results in the decline of dialects, have also affected current ritual practices especially when dialects are embedded in their performance
Given that Chinese funerals in Singapore tend to fall along religious lines – Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, and free-thinker – our project aims to explore variations in funeral rites practiced by the various dialect groups, in particular, Cantonese Buddhists and Taoists.
Over the last two years, our project group has interviewed a variety of stakeholders that engage with Chinese funerals in Singapore. From religious / spiritual leaders, to funeral directors, to the everyday Singaporean, we have sought to map the social landscape of contemporary Chinese funeral rites, activities, artefacts and beliefs in Singapore.
Project Principal Investigator
Dr Lye Kit Ying, Singapore University of Social Sciences
Dr Janice Kam, Singapore University of Social Sciences
Dr Terence Heng, University of Liverpool
To cite this website, please use the following information
Lye, K.Y., Kam, J. Heng, T. (2021) Chinese Funeral Practices in Singapore. http://www.chinesefuneralpractices.sg
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Authors (Last Name, First Name)
Lye, Kit Ying
Website and articles date of publication:
8 August 2021