Funerals can put a great deal of pressure on Chinese families to impress those who are attending. According to "The Global Times," the traditional belief is that the more elaborate and expensive the funeral, the more honor that is given to the deceased and to the family. In the same way, those attending a Chinese funeral are expected to make a donation to the family as a sign of respect and to help defray the cost of the funeral. This etiquette is practiced by Chinese communities around the world.
Those attending a Chinese funeral are expected to give money to the grieving family directly, or by placing the money -- or a white envelope containing the money -- into a donation box. A donation box is often present in the home where the wake is being held. If no donation box is present, then the donation can be given directly to the grieving family.
Money can be given directly by hand to a member of the grieving family a day before or during the funeral. In this case, custom dictates that the money should be given in a white envelope. On other occasions, such as Chinese New Year, money is given in a red envelope -- red is a happy color in Chinese culture, and white is for mourning. It is acceptable to leave the envelope blank, or to write from whom and for whom the money is on the outside.
The amount given depends on the income level of the family and their guests. According to "The Global Times," for those living in Shanghai, the money given in a white envelope should be a multiple of 100 yuan plus 1 yuan, the minimal amount being 101 yuan -- around $15 USD as of 2012. For a neighbor or friend, 201 yuan is generally seen as being acceptable, and the amount is expected to increase depending on how close the guest is to the deceased or to the family. The amount is similar in other developed cities in China, such as Beijing and Guangzhou. There is no limit on the amount that can be given, and it is expected that the family receiving the money will repay the same amount when one of those who has attended holds a funeral.
Etiquette for Giving and Receiving
If not placed in a donation box, envelopes should be handed to one of the family members responsible for holding the funeral. When taken, the family member will say “you xin” in Mandarin or “you sum” in Cantonese; both phrases roughly translate to “you have heart” or “you are very considerate.” “Thank you” -- “xie xie” in Mandarin or “do jeh” in Cantonese -- is not seen as an appropriate phrase to be used in an event related to death.
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images