In 1973, when Wenguang Huang was eight, his grandmother became obsessed with her own death. Fearing cremation, she appealed to her family to promise to bury her after she’d died. This was in Xi’an, a city in central China, at a time when a national ban on all traditional Chinese practices, including burials, was strictly enforced. But his grandmother was persistent, and two years later, Huang’s father built her a coffin.
Over the next fifteen years, the whole family was consumed with planning Grandma’s burial, a regular source of friction and contention, with the constant risk of being caught by the authorities. Years later, Huang came to understand how much the coffin had influenced his upbringing and shaped the lives of everyone in the family.
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