Symbolism of Mountains

The act of paying respect to one’s ancestor is sometimes referred to as 拜山 in Chinese or ‘making offerings to the mountains’. This is because the Chinese believe that all forms of life originate from the mountains and that any site of elevation, even ‘a small hill’, has life- giving properties. The Chinese, in the selection of hilly sites as their ancestor’s resting spot, ensures that the deceased will continue to receive vital life-force or qi from the mountains in their afterlife.

According to Chinese geomancy or fengshui, locating a grave on a hill can protect the deceased from evil elements from the surroundings, as they serve as natural barriers to winds, rain etc. Also, it is believed that mountain chains, or ranges of hills are like branches of arteries which deliver qi energy to the deceased. For a more practical reason, locating graves uphill will allow for quick drainage of water through the coffin, keeping the remains of the deceased relatively dry, thus preserving the body in a better state.

Lastly, in Chinese tradition, mountain landscapes are often associated with notions of beauty, evident from 山水画 (or paintings of the mountains and waterfalls) being a representation for Chinese Painting in general. To bury one’s ancestor on the highest and most scenic areas will be to enable him/ her to rest in the company of the beauties of nature. Thus, Bukit Brown Cemetery, consisting of natural hillocks and little valleys with gentle hill slopes was considered an ideal location to lay one’s ancestor to rest.