Features of Graves

While the gravesites at Bukit Brown vary from grave to grave depending on the economic background of the deceased, all tombstones follow the throne- shaped design of a Southern Chinese tomb with most Chinese settlers arriving from southern Chinese provinces like Guangdong and Fujian. The design of a grave generally involves a tombstone being placed before a horseshoe-shaped wall. The remains of the dead are then buried beneath this area and piled high with soil (to liken a hill), forming a structure resembling a womb.

The Chinese believe that a womb-shaped gravesite like the one below will allow the deceased to be laid to rest in the same manner in which it began life. It also signifies the start of a new ‘afterlife’ for the dead, reinforcing the notion that life never ends with death, but simply continues in a different form in a separate realm. Therefore, during the Qing Ming Festival when family members pay respect to their ancestors, they ‘sweep the gravesite’ (扫墓),clearing the gravesite of any overgrown plants so that there is an unobstructed flow of positive qi or energy to the dead.

An altar is also built before the tombstone, where offerings and incense are placed when living family members pay their respects. A portrait or photograph of the deceased is displayed on the tombstone. The deceased’s hometown, name, date of death, descendants are also carved onto the tombstone to remind descendants of their roots.

As mentioned earlier, the close connection between the living and spirit world would mean that a well chosen burial site is believed to bring good luck and prosperity to both the deceased and the living members. Many families therefore turn to experienced Chinese geomancers for advice on the choice of a burial site and the layout of a grave site. Chinese geomancy or fengshui is the study of the balance of energies at a particular location, so that humans can live at that particular location in peace. In this case, the geomancer has the duty of choosing an ideal burial site and determining the layout of the gravesite so as to maximize benefits for the living.

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