Casing the joint: funeral shops

Arriving in a county-town in China in search of leads to ritual activity in the area, far more promising than becoming ensnared at the Bureau of Culture is to visit the funeral shops (shouyidian, zhizhapu, and so on).

Li Bin’s first funeral shop in town.

Some are actually run by yinyang household Daoists. In Yanggao town, Li Bin’s shop is just one of around half a dozen funeral shops, of which several others are also run by yinyang. Daoists also have many such shops in Tianzhen and Shuozhou county-towns.

Tianzhen funeral shop

Funeral shop in Tianzhen county-town.

Those run by shawm bands tend rather to provide a complete service for weddings—still in Yanggao, Yang Ying and his relatives have a thriving business in Gucheng south of the county-town.

Yang Ying shopfront

The most remarkable concentration of funeral shops I have seen in the region is in Yingxian county-town. All along East Street, just east of the famous Liao-dynasty pagoda and all the tourist tat, over fifty such shops line both sides of the long road.

Yingxian funeral shops

For more photos from north Shanxi, see Chen Yu, Jinbei minjian daojiao keyi yinyue yanjiu, pp.93–4.

Whoever runs such shops, they all have close contacts with both ritual specialists and shawm bands, as well as geomancers, cooks, grave-diggers, and so on. They can soon tell you the best bands, and when funerals are coming up.

All this makes platitudinous banquets with local cultural officials pleasantly superfluous.

7 thoughts on “Casing the joint: funeral shops

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