HK "death" exhibition challenges Chinese taboo

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HONG KONG, Oct 18 (Reuters) An exhibition seeking to ease Chinese taboos toward death has opened in Hong Kong, featuring ''green'' paper coffins and multimedia artwork, including a coffin ''simulator'' giving users a 3-minute taste of death.

There was no champagne or glitz at the ''Experience Death Through Art'' exhibition's opening today. Instead, the crowd was dominated by elderly Hong Kongers who sipped Starbucks coffee and milled around the death-themed exhibits with walking sticks.

''In Chinese culture, death is still a taboo. Of course attitudes have relaxed in the past 10-20 years, but for many people, death is something better left unsaid,'' said Craig Au Yeung, the curator for the show.

''I think death education is something that is very meaningful here (in Hong Kong),'' Au Yeung added.

This curatorial vision rubbed off on some elderly visitors as they pottered about a diverse array of open caskets -- including a gold-hued Chinese paper coffin, a tiny ''pet'' coffin and one fashioned out of purple cloth from South Korea.

''I came to appreciate the artwork -- after all in life you've got to die at least once,'' quipped Fung Yuk-chun, 73.

''The coffins are beautiful, especially the ones from Canada and China,'' said Tam Wai-ching, an 85-year-old, with a laugh.

One of the highlights of the show, was a chunky black coffin ''simulator'' giving visitors a chance to clamber inside with the lid down. A short video on death then plays in the darkness, with a sonorous voice asking one to imagine one's own funeral: ''Without death, none of our actions have any meaning,'' it said.

''Most coffins, when you enter them, you can't step back out again. But with ours you can,'' said Simon Yip, one of several students who realised the so-called ''Meet in Coffin'' project.

''Through a simulation, we hope they can get the same type of inspiration to let them appreciate life more,'' said Yip.

While the show's organisers expressed satisfaction at the response -- they said a more tricky task was persuading Hong Kongers to switch to paper coffins as a green alternative.

''Traditionally the Chinese want to use wood coffins and have a grand cremation and sendoff. Paper seems a bit cheap,'' said Josephine Lee, an organiser who said paper coffins took around half an hour less time to burn than the usual 90-120 minutes for a wooden coffin.

Despite costing around half a wooden coffin, Leslie Lok, whose family has run the Kung Sau Funeral Service for several generations -- said they were still waiting to sell their first paper coffin, given a conspicuous lack of demand.

REUTERS SKB PM1530

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