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The 7th Day Memorial Rites

23 November 2010

It was Sunday morning, it was 7am, and it was a cloudy day, yet 100,000 people in Shanghai had already begun to arrive at the outdoor memorial service site on Jiaozhou Road in Jing'an District in front of the 28-storey apartment building destroyed in the fire 7 days ago on 15 November, 2010.

At around 2pm, when 7 days ago the fire started to engulf the residential high-rise, the sky started to drizzle - was this the reflection of the human mood or an expression of the beings above?

Touqi (头七), the 7th Day after death, marks the first milestone on ones' journey beyond, as after a 7-day circle most deceased are said to have overcome the initial confusion and begin to realise what have happened to them, thus would return to bid farewell to their loved ones.

Many Shanghai residents purchased a large quantity of white and yellow chrysanthemum, a traditional symbol of mourning in Chinese culture, to distribute to mourners for free.

The words on the plate read: Don't cry, Shanghai. Free flowers for memorial service.

A man bowed in a typical Chinese mourning fashion in the middle of the road leading to the destroyed residential building.

The front of the burned apartment building was transformed into a giant outdoor memorial service site.

A girl broke down sobbing before the photo of her loved one.

子欲养而亲不在. What can be more lamentable for a grown up to find that she has no more chance to repay the kindness of her parent?

A granny broke down wailing before the items tributed by mourners to her friend.

音容宛在,阴阳两隔。 What can be more forlorn for an aged to attend the funeral of her old pal?

Toys were presented as offerings to a 16-month old baby perished in the fire.

你来过,你很乖. He came to this world, he was a good boy and he left in hurry.

Mourners came from all walks of life, some are not Shanghai residents, most never met the victims and their families.

大火无情人有情! Our thoughts are with you on your journey to other worlds.

This is the ending of Chinese film Tangshan Earthquake, and Bodhisattva Guanyin's Heart Sutra was sung by China's most popular Buddhist singer Wang Fei. Please allow us to present this as our tribute to the 58 victims of Shanghai Fire.

According to Sutra Of the Great Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (地藏经), the end of the earthly existence could arrive unexpectedly. When thrown into the wheel of transition without warning, one could be so traumatised to the point where he might lose his consciousness completely. However, after an initial shock, he would slowly recover the old memory but feel totally disoriented in a new reality. Unaware his changed circumstance, he keeps wandering around the site where he passed away and trying to resume the communication with the loved ones.

After one basic cosmic circle which is 7 days, the power to cling to this physical world through pure strength of consciousness without support of solid form begins to crumble, at this stage most deceased would understand that his existence in this realm is no longer sustainable thus consider to gesture a formal farewell before his final departure.

During this conclusive communication between two different forms of existence from two different types of reality, a positive human willpower, in particular from those closely linked to the deceased or those highly cultivated in spiritual dimension, would have a constructive impact on the future aspects of the deceased and be a timely help to his pressing task of selecting the best new form of existence allowed by his karmic composition.

That is why the 7th Day Memorial Service is so important, and Chinese know it, as always.

Photo courtesy of 钮一新, 范筱明, 裴鑫(新华社), 潘索菲 (中新社) and other attendents of the memorial service whose names we are unable to identify

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The family members of the fire victims attended the 7th Day Rite taken place in Shanghai's biggest Buddhist monastery Jing'an Temple from which the name of the district was derived.

The leaders of Shanghai government attended the outdoor memorial service.

The leaders of Jing'an District attended the outdoor memorial service.

The abbot of Jing'an Temple (静安寺) and the dean of Shanghai Buddhist College Master Huiming (慧明大和尚) hosted the 7th-Day memorial rite which was attended by over a thousand monks and Buddhist followers along with the victims' family members.

On the memorial rite

On the memorial rite

The flowers in the front of the burnt building

The mourners on the way to pay their tribute.

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