Friday, March 16, 2012

Artificial death

The woman above, 95-year-old Li Xiufeng of Liulou, China, has been characterized as a "zombie" from here to Fiji. A couple of weeks after suffering a bad fall last month, she appeared to her visiting neighbor to have died. Chen Qingwang, who brought her breakfast everyday, recounts, “She didn't get up, so I came up to wake her up. No matter how hard I pushed her and called her name, she had no reactions. I felt something was wrong, so I tried her breath, and she has gone, but her body is still not cold." He and Xiufeng's son planned her funeral rites, which began with lying in state for several days to allow her friends and relatives to pay their last respects. Coming to close the casket in advance of the scheduled Feb. 24th burial, Qingwang was startled to find that the deceased had disappeared 6 days after she had been laid out. "We were so terrified, and immediately asked the neighbours to come for help," he said. They found her in the kitchen. As Xiufeng describes, “I slept for a long time. After waking up, I felt so hungry, and wanted to cook something to eat. I pushed the lid for a long time to climb out." The local hospital attributes her seemingly lifeless state, during which she remained warm but her breath could not be detected, to "artificial death."* Xiufeng has cheated death, but the experience has cheated her: the villagers have - according to custom - burned all her belongings!**

*I compiled the Death Dictionary of 5,500 words, which is newly back in print, and I had never heard of this. I looked it up and it was there, but I define "artificial death" as "death by other than natural causes." This seems unprovoked by anything unnatural, even if you consider the fall. Maybe it's a poor translation, since I found a single reference to it as a form of brain death.

**I had heard of the tradition of burning a person's belongings at death and confirmed it: "Among non-Christians the belongings of the deceased are usually destroyed, with the exception of objects of great value or objects that the people have asked to have buried with them....Burning [is] the traditional means of sending the possessions of the dead with them to the afterworld," writes Nicole Constable in Christian Souls and Chinese Spirits: a Hakka Community in Hong Kong.

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