My Interview with IVY. . .

Sandra Donnell

Well, everyone,.....I have been having trouble in obtaining the full "interview" with my friend, from China, who lived here with me in my apartment complex, because she moved to Chicago. Her computer went down, and she physically drove down here to be with her mother and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, tonight....and obtained the following "interview" as a face to face meeting...So....HERE'S. . . . my interview with IVY.

IVY, as I will call her, is a 30 year old woman, who I was in a Speech class, last semester, here at Indiana University. IVY is Chinese, from Hong Kong, and she is married to a Japanese man. IVY and I became friends last semester, as she was having some difficulty with interpreting the "meanings" of the English language, and I "sensed" that in her. . . We talked after one class, and quickly found out that we live in the same building here on campus. IVY and I worked on our Speech projects, last semester, and we quickly became "girlfriends". Her husband, lives in Chicago, working with a Japanese car company, and IVY's mother, and 2 brothers, live here in Bloomington. IVY just graduated from Indiana University, with her major being in the fashion design area.

She has had a great deal of experience in the restaurant management business, as well as the travel and hotel management businesses, here in the United States. She is quite an interesting and talkative young woman, who was gracious enough to grant me this interview, and I am very grateful to her for taking the time out of her schedule to do this...So, here's the history of IVY. . .


IVY's biological parents were born in China. They left the mainland of China, back in the 1960's, because of the Revolution. The Ruling party of China, is Communist, and it was through luck and hard work that IVY's parents were able to leave China, and migrate to Hong Kong. China, as IVY explained to me, was during that time, and still is, under Communist rule. There are really only two classes of people. . . the upper (rich) and the lower (poor) classes. HONG KONG is considered to be an INDEPENDENT area that is considered paradise to those who are fortunate enough to make it there. In HONG KONG, the ruling, governing people, are the BRITISH. Under Britain's rule, there is much more freedom and choice for those who live in HONG KONG. As of July 1, 1997, however, the treaty is expired, and the Communists from China are certain to make their move into HONG KONG.. this is a threat to all who live in HONG KONG, so as many Chinese, or (HONG KONGESE), as she described herself, are up-in-arms, as to what is to be their fate... Be that as it may....IVY'S story goes something like this.....

IVY'S mother divorced her father, when IVY was three (3) years old. This is very, very unusual for the Chinese do NOT truly believe in divorce. When I inquired as to what happened, IVY said, "I have never seen my father, nor do I want to". IVY'S mother has told her that her father was very abusive, and somehow, she obtained a divorce. IVY said, with a quick, evasive tone in her voice...."He's never been a part of my life"...End of subject!! Since IVY'S mother moved to HONG KONG, she met another man, and married him. They left HONG KONG, and moved to AFRICA, where her mother and step-father were employed in an industrial atmosphere. IVY stayed behind in HONG KONG, where she was basically raised by her maternal grandparents. IVY met her present husband, a Japanese gentleman, in HONG KONG, and they moved here to Bloomington, several years ago. Her husband was living in Naperville, Illinois (which is also a coincidence, since that is where I moved from as well, 3 years ago), and he is working for Japanese car company. HOWEVER, her husband has found a better job with a Japanese car company, back here in good ol' Bloomington, and IVY is going to have to sell their home in Chicago, and she is moving back...It's migration time again!! :)

IVY was educated in an ENGLISH school in HONG KONG, however, IVY maintains that the "old traditions" of mainland China, are incorporated in her way of thinking about the traditions, and customs of life and death, but mixed in with a Western a twist. IVY told me the answers to the following questions about her way of thinking, which I will share with you now.....

1. What kind of traditions and rituals do you have to commemorate a death?

IVY explained that in mainland China, there is plenty of land. If a person is from a wealthy family, whose ancestors have owned property, land, then most deaths are finalized by burial in a cemetery.. THIS is different, however, for the HONG KONGESE. Since there is such a scarcity of land in HONG KONG, the tradition of commemorating a death, is usually by CREMATION. The mainland CHINESE commemorate a death with our WESTERN ways of performing a ceremony of a funeral, and both, the CHINESE and the HONG KONGESE, are in a "state of morning" or "grieving" for 30 days. NO ONE is wear any bright colored clothing. Only DULL, bland colors are worn by the IMMEDIATE families of the deceased. The HONG KONGESE, however, have adapted a style that SIMPLIFIES a lot of customs, and rituals, due mainly in part to the influence of the British. SO....the lifestyles, and ways of thinking between mainland China and HONG KONG are somewhat different. IN both cases, the following is true: A. The CHINESE burn fake, or paper money, houses, cars, butlers, maids, material belongings, etc. as a representative of the things on this earth that the deceased owned.

THEORY: When a person dies, according to their "material, financial status", the more they will NEED these THINGS in their new life. According to a person's status, after death, the spirit is floating somewhere and NEEDS these things.....I asked IVY if she believed that....she said: "I'm not sure. I have so much WESTERN influence on my thinking, I don't know." When I asked her if she would do the same thing in the case of her mother's death, she replied, "Yes....I still think in terms of commemorating death in the "old ways". This tradition, of BURNING PAPER THINGS, is practiced in the immediate family's home, and the ashes are set in an URN. This tradition is also commemorated on the BIRTHDAY of the deceased, on the ANNUAL DATE OF DEATH of the deceased, on CHINESE MEMORIAL DAY, and on the CHINESE NEW YEAR DAY. The CHINESE burn incense, on those dates; visit the URNS in the temples, and bring fruit, pictures, flowers, and hand-written diaries to set in front of the URNS as another ritual. In HONG KONG, since land is Soooo valuable and scarce, the "closure to death" is usually done by CREMATION. There just isn't enough land for the amount of people living there.. IN CHINA, burial is much more apt to be the way of burial. TO be able to have a burial in a piece of ground, is a luxury! To be fortunate enough to be buried in a MOUNTAIN, especially nearer to the TOP of the mountain, is an even greater luxury. The theory behind this tradition, is that the closer a person is to the top of the mountain, he/she can LOOK out over the land. It was also stressed, as IVY made a BIG point that the "feet of a person" must point towards the SOUTH. It is a belief that to LIVE in your house, as would be the "OLD" custom, a person who is lucky enough to have a home, should have their front door facing the SOUTH. This is supposed to bring a person "good luck" to be buried with your feet pointing towards the south, is also supposed to bring good luck. Both MEN and WOMEN wear DULL, colored clothing during the 30 day mourning period, with a "hood" attached to their jacket, and worn over their heads.

2. What are some of the beliefs you hold that offers comfort in times of loss?

It is very important to "remember" and "honor" the deceased with fond memories of their life. It IS NOT a comforting thing to remember the "bad stuff" of the deceased. It is also proper, and OK to write in diaries, burn incense, offer VEGETARIAN foods, and remain "sullen" during the mourning period. The belief that the "spirit of the deceased" will return, (reincarnation), is also a STRONG belief of the Chinese. They believe that our spirits DO return in the form of an animal, insect, or some living creature.

3. What about beliefs that could add to the pain of loss?

IVY said that all of her family, and most of the CHINESE and HONG KONGESE do believe in GHOSTS. These GHOSTS are most likely to appear around the 7th day, after the death. The haunting of the spirits of the dead, is a strong belief and it is scary to them. During the CHINESE MEMORIAL DAY, the spirit of the deceased IS with the immediate family. It is also a painful thing to remember "what a person could have done" when the deceased was alive.

4. What are your beliefs about life after death?

IVY said that the deceased have their "down world." They are FREE to come back to the earth. During a person's life, the children are taught to "be good" or when you die, you will come back as a (FILL IN THE BLANK). . . .IVY says she isn't quite sure if she believes in this "reincarnation stuff", but she tends to believe that there is something to it. Their behavior on earth is to be DECENT human being; NEVER, EVER take advantage of another person; to WORK HARD...the work ethic is strong; and, NEVER take WELFARE, like the United States loves to do.

5. How would you define health and unhealthy grief?

HEALTHY GRIEF = crying, mourning, burning incense, bringing flowers, fruit, pictures, diaries as often as a person would like to the place of burial.

UNHEALTHY GRIEF = Not being able to "LET GO" of the crying after a certain amount of time.

IVY wasn't quite sure what I meant by this question; I tried to explain to her about DEPRESSION, and the lingering effects of "unresolved grieving" but she didn't seem to think that she had experienced it or that it wasn't the CHINESE way of thinking to continue with grieving .

6. What is the relationship between your private grief and your public mourning?

PRIVATE GRIEF = Deep thinking of the deceased, Crying, laughing...the showing of emotions. Bowing to each other, and to the deceased person's picture, is also another custom that is done.

PUBLIC MOURNING = NEVER, EVER show LAUGHING, or emotions of HAPPINESS, or JOY in PUBLIC. The "SHOW" must go on, so to speak, in PUBLIC, and the PROPER way of grieving is to be SAD, and sullen. Bowing, once again, is OK, to do in PUBLIC.

7. How useful do you think group support is in facilitating successful resolution of grief?

I received a STRONG response from IVY on this one....IT IS THE FAMILY that is the "support group." VERY RARELY, do the Chinese go to our WESTERN way of doing things, by "group therapy". IF the family can't be there to support the grieving members, it just isn't done as in a group of strangers.


Well, to tell the truth, I learned a lot about the Chinese, and their ways. They still maintain the traditions and customs from hundreds of years ago, about "WHAT" they believe. It was very interesting to learn that IVY, being a WESTERN CHINESE, HONG KONGESE, still DOES believe in GHOSTS, reincarnation as a PIG, a BUG, or your next door neighbor's dog or cat. IVY has the education from the ENGLISH as a basis for her "formal education", but her "belief system" is still that of the "old WORLD". I sensed a completeness with IVY in her beliefs, and she seemed comfortable in sharing with me, and comfortable in her ACCEPTANCE of these beliefs and customs. It was truly a wonderful experience to have this interview with my friend, IVY, and I am truly grateful to her for granting it.

Return to Cultural Interviews
Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F317, Spring semester, 1997.
(C) 1997, Sandra Donnell. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact her through the course instructor, at