China is a nation that is a giant in every way. Itís vast in size and contains every kind of climate and landscape, from freezing mountains and sun-scorched deserts to fertile plains and tropical forests. It has the worldís biggest population and boasts a civilization that stretches back thousands of years. Although it is ruled by the communist party today, for many generations its people lived their lives according to the rules of traditional Chinese philosophies like Confucianism.
One thing is central to these philosophies: the idea of respect for the old. Children were raised to respect and care for their parents and grandparents not just while they were alive but also when they died. Thatís why funerals were such an important ritual in ancient China, as you can see from one of Chinaís most famous folk-stories. It tells of the poor peasant Dong Yong and his elderly father, who lived alone after the death of Dong Yongís mother. They worked night and day on their tiny farm, struggling to earn enough money to survive.
Then one year a terrible drought struck their farm and Dong Yongís father died of hardship and grief. It was now Dong Yongís duty to bury his father with all due honour, but he had no money to pay for a suitable coffin and grave, let alone the elaborate ceremonies that had to accompany the funeral. What could he do? There was only one course open to him: he sold himself as a slave to a cruel and greedy landlord, raising sufficient money for the funeral in return for years of back-breaking work.
The story of Dong Young doesnít end there Ė he later married a poor peasant girl who was actually a goddess in disguise Ė but his sacrifice to pay for his fatherís funeral is an essential part of why he has been famous to millions of Chinese people down the generations. Even today in communist China he is a much-loved symbol of respect for the elderly and love for oneís parents. Dong Yong didnít put himself first, deciding that because he was now alone in the world he should look after himself. No, on the contrary, he was determined to honour his dead father and ensure that he was buried with honour and dignity.
Funerals are important in many other cultures, of course, and itís always difficult when we cannot say goodbye to a loved one in the way we would wish. In Britain today the costs of burial and cremation are rising faster than inflation. Many people find themselves in the trap of funeral poverty. When a loved one passes on, they cannot afford the funeral they wanted and have to settle for something cheaper. Sometimes they canít afford a funeral at all and have to rely on the help of a local authority.
Itís not a good situation to be in, but fortunately there are ways to beat the funeral-poverty trap. A funeral plan allows you to fix the price once and for all. No matter what happens in future, you wonít pay extra Ė everything is covered and you can choose exactly the kind of funeral you want. Whether itís cremation, a traditional funeral in church or an eco-friendly burial in a woodland setting, there are funeral plans to fit every budget and every lifestyle choice. Funerals were important in ancient China and are important today in modern Britain. But you donít have to sell yourself into slavery to get the kind of funeral you want.