University students view funerals as challenges in creativity
BY Berta from 21st Century
Published 2011-06-10

Serving as a funeral host may not be the most glamorous occupation, but it's one that Tang Lei, a 23-year-old senior at the Radio & Film College of Chengdu University of Technology in Sichuan Province, has called the most important experience of his life.

"When I first started it was a scary thought to be working around dead people all day," Tang said. "Now, however, I've realized how polite and courteous it's made me, and simply how grateful to be alive."

Celebrating life

"I was just so intrigued when I saw the job posting for funeral host," Tang said. "What kind of challenges would such a job present? I really had no idea at the time."

Unexpectedly, he passed his interviews and has been officially working in his post at the Chengdu Tiandi Shengyuan Funeral Service Co since March. He said that the first few weeks were especially trying, despite the fact that his company sent him to a special training class to learn the nuances of traditional Chinese funeral rites.

Starting as a green hand, he often had trouble falling asleep and would be beset by nightmares of the dead people he'd helped shepherd to their final resting place.

"As time went by, I started to understand that a funeral could be a way to celebrate the life of the deceased, not just grieve," Tang said. "I started to view it in a more hopeful light."

A personal touch

This shift in perspective led Tang to embrace the business even more wholeheartedly, taking a daring plunge into funeral design. He said he hopes to inject a bit more individuality and creativity into the funeral process.

"I'm trying to make funerals feel more comfortable – more like cozy farewell parties than the ultimate good-bye. Funerals should not only serve to memorialize the dead, but also to give hope to those they've left behind."

Tang cited one particularly outstanding funeral he organized a few months ago, for a mother who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and planned the funeral alongside Tang in her dying days. They bought two stuffed bears and stitched a card over each one's heart, bearing the farewell words of the mother. Tang then dressed the bears in clothes studded with heart-shaped patches, represented the mother's pain and love.

Tang said that watching the children honor their deceased mother – all without shedding a tear – was his proudest moment.

"Many people, including my parents, don't understand why I'd choose this job," Tang said, "I've told them that there's an entire culture behind funerals."

Changing the status quo

Yang Dong, one of Tang's colleagues at the funeral home, said that there's a prosperous future ahead for funeral directors in China as the country continues its march toward greater development.

"Funerals will get more elaborate and require even greater attention to detail. It can't just be handled by mindless automatons – it takes a special touch nowadays."

Jiang Lin, the director of the Tiandi Shengyuan Funeral Service Co, said that he's particularly eager to hire fresh graduates, that their energy and perspective can breathe new life into an often monotonous and tedious business. "They really challenge the traditional notions of what a funeral is. It may be difficult to accept at first, but it will ultimately make funerals more personal and meaningful."

(Translator & Editor: 21英语 Karen AND Aaron )
courteous  谦恭的
intrigued  好奇的
nuance  细微差别
plunge  陷入
inject  注入;注射
wholeheartedly  全心全意地
automatons  自动装置
monotonous  单调的
tedious  冗长乏味的