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Fu Ling Kong Temple
Fu Ling Kong Temple

















Chinese Bone Exhuming / Shi Jin / 拾金

Chinese Bone Exhuming / Shi Jin / 拾金.

Today, I was invited to observe the exhumation of a Chinese grave belonging to a Shum family in Kampar, Perak. And with permission, I was allowed to post some photos of the process. Just as the exhumation begins to start, I notice a tree on the side with a few weaver birds returning to its nests. Symbolically, it’s an auspicious omen on a auspicious day. Based on inscriptions found on the headstone, this grave is 56 years old. It was great that bones where recovered as usually after so many years, it would have been fully decayed. Another auspicious sign.

The chinese exhuming of bones has a history dating back to neolithic times of ancient china and it’s known as Shijin / 拾金. A direct translation would mean “Picking of Gold”. It is also an act of a filial piety.

Commonly, exhumation are usually done after 10 years of burial. There are many reason to why the remains were exhumed. Some descendant’s would collect the bones and send it back for reburial at the hometown where the deceased is born (sometimes to china), some are for feng shui reason as the Chinese believe that the grave of an ancestors would effect the luck of it’s descendants, some are exhumed for land development reason (property are good money) and many more.

It all begins with a discussion among the family member to obtain everybody’s consent for exhuming their ancestors. Usually the elders would have the last say on whether it should be done. Then, an auspicious time and date for exhuming will be selected based on the date of birth of the deceased and family members by a feng shui master. Usually the time selected to begin exhumation are at early dawn/early hours of the morning to avoid the sun from shining into the grave by noon. Family members are usually advised NOT to wear any bright colored clothing for that event.

Member of the families begins prayers with paying respect to the Tua pek kong/ Da Bo Gong / 大伯公 in a Temple which is usually found in the cemetary. After prayers, family members would walk up to the tomb where the grave digger and taoist priest would be waiting to start their work. Incence, Fruits and flower along with hell money (paper paraphernalia) are offered at this stage to the deceased.

The Taoist priest would conduct a prayers to inform the local earth deity and the deceased that the family member wishes to exhumed and relocate the remains to another location.

Family members were asked to look away when the digger unearth the first scoop of soil. Depending on the depth, it will take about 20 minutes to an hour for the experience grave digger to removed the earth covering the coffin. An old style wooden umbrella would be held by the family members above when the digger is about to open the coffin.

If the coffin has decay, the digger would have to slowly and carefully dig further down with a smaller scoop to recover the bones that is buried along the soil. The skull would be the first section a digger looked for. When found, the chinese umbrella would be open and be held by the elders (sometime daughter or grand daughter) to shade the removal from seeing the sky. The bones are carried out of the grave delicately ( in a correct order) while the digger or the Taoist priest would utter auspicious sentences blessing the descendants. There should be not word of disrespect or vulgarity during the whole process.

The used of an chinese wooden umbrella is to avoid the spirit of the dead from been dispersed. Some even have a canopy over the whole grave for this reason.

A red/yellow cloth would then be place on the ground and the deceased bones are properly arrange onto it. Missing bones are replace symbolically. Whatever that is use to substitute the missing bones would depends on the experience and knowledge of the digger. In the event that no remains are found, the bone collector would have to “symbolically” replace the bones that has decay. There are also cases where the corpses are still damp ( located in a water pit) and there are those that are dry (preserved corpses) . In those circumstances, the remain and its coffin would be raise for cremation and some would even suggest reinterment for further excarnation/defleshing process. This would probably take another few year before the next exhumation can be done.

Any Valuable buried along with the dead are also returned to its descendants. These too are usually place back into the large urn on the next process if the remains is to be reburied.

Once all bone is collected, the process of cleaning the bones would be done on the spot or it would be bag and transported to the digger work place. The same chinese wooden umbrella will be used to shade the remain till it reaches the work place.

All bones are usually cleaned piece by piece with rice wine and water in a basin. Red paint or cinnabar ink are sometimes used to paint onto the large bones to signify blood and veins. Some digger would also invite a member of the family to witness the cleaning. Even while cleaning, a professional digger would utter auspicious sentences on almost every major bone he is cleaning. Some would even rhyme or sing songs of filial piety while doing this.

When the cleaning process is completed, the bones would be place into an large urn. The first set of bones that are place into the urn are the toes/feet bones (phalanx bones). A set of chopstick would be used and the elders in the family would be task to do this. The remains will be arrange in a sitting position so the deceased would be sitting up right for future burial.

There is also a ritual that the Joss stick /incense or its ashes from the grave are taken along for the new incense pot in the new place.

If the family members wishes to have the remain cremated, the ashes would be place into the urn and it would usually be housed in a urn columbarium of the families liking.

A Taoist priest would perform the last ritual when the urn is place in a columbarium or when it’s reburied. A whole new grave/feng shui with a new headstone would be build in the even of a reburial.

-The custom and ritual of this practice varies from place to place. But the basic should be done as to respect the deceased and the family. The above is NOT a guideline but something which i have personally witness from a few of those grave that has been exhumed. Some information here are provided to me by Taoist priests that has been close friends over the years. A Professional digger could even tell much about the deceased when he was alive just by examining the remains…. like forensic doctors.

-There are also something that actually disturb me, I have heard and read off stories where people’s ancestors where exhumed without their knowledge and this is usually for commercial purposes. A grave/tomb sometimes contains clue to much history and when its exhumed those history will be lost. I would suggest all cemetery to record and catalog all graves in their vicinity and be given a minimal 8-10 years grace period for exhuming in the event the descendants cannot be located.

– if you got more information to share on this topic, please do leave a comment.

– I would like to say THANK YOU to the SHUM family for permitting the use of these great photos.

Chinese Bone Exhuming / Shi Jin / 拾金

Chinese Bone Exhuming / Shi Jin / 拾金

Chinese Bone Exhuming / Shi Jin / 拾金

Below:- Placing of remains with a set of Chopstick.

Chinese Bone Exhuming / Shi Jin / 拾金

Below:- Weavers Bird Nest’s

Weavers Bird Nest


My Time – my.72dragon.com – A web blog where i catalog chinese temples in malaysia.

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