Across China: Mortician: a life spent with death
XINING, May 16 (Xinhua) -- Li Mingjun, pseudonym, asked to remain anonymous as his son has no idea what he actually does for a living.
"He thinks I work in a factory," Li said. "I don't want my son to learn such heavy topics as life and death too early, and I'm also afraid his classmates would isolate him due to my job."
The 41-year-old head of the cremation department in the municipal funeral home of Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province, has been working in the industry for half his life.
Though being a mortician is appealing in many places, talking about death is kind of taboo in Chinese tradition, as people fear that work and topics related to death might bring bad luck.
Li described being a mortician as a "job where one can't smile." Without handshakes, smiling or saying "goodbye," Li and his colleagues have long been accustomed to these "professional rules."
"The funeral industry was relatively unpopular when I graduated from high school, making it easy to find a job," Li said, adding that he studied funeral technology and management at a civil affairs college to become a mortician. "Back then, I never thought I would spend day after day with the death while finding the true meaning of life."
"After we put makeup and clothes on the deceased, they look really peaceful, like they are asleep. Sometimes we need to sew up wounds for those who died in accidents, giving them dignity at the end of their lives," Li said. "Giving dignity to the deceased and comfort to their loved ones is the value of my job."
"From a body to a handful of ashes, our work is sacred," said Liu Xuanhong, director of the municipal funeral home in Xining. To help more people put their prejudices aside and take an objective view toward life and death, the home holds open days to allow the public to learn about the daily work of morticians.
The 41-year-old director of the etiquette department of the funeral home, under the alias of Zhang Xiaojing, has been working in her role for eight years. Her daily work involves arranging funeral ceremonies according to the needs of bereaved families.
"Considering local customs, many cremations are conducted in the early morning and our work is mostly in the middle of the night," Zhang said, adding that she also had her own fears at the beginning.
"The job has gradually taught me the impermanence of life. Only by knowing 'death' can we better 'live.' What we can do is to cherish what we have and live a life we love," she said.