Paper House Burning, One of Chinese Traditions Remained (or revived?)

Bambang Priantono


Even though all Chinese cultural aspects were oppressed during New Order (1966-1998), but many of them still survived. Linguistically, especially in Java and Eastern Indonesia, most of Indonesian Chinese have lost their ancestral languages and assimilated into Bahasa Indonesia or local languages they live, while most of them also changed their name in order to be more Indonesian sounding, and even most of Indonesian Chinese have adhered Christianity as their belief, however, after reform era in 1998 which signed the end of New Order, Chinese cultures seem to get a new breathe in Indonesia.


Not just Barongsai (Lion dance), Liong (Dragon dance), recognition of Confucianism as one of recognized religions, or wayang potehi and Imlek (Chinese New Year) as national holiday which can be seen nowadays, but also some others such as paper house burning or –if I am not mistaken- Co Kong Tik (I don’t know what language it is..Hokkien or Teochiew, but surely it’s not Mandarin). It is a Chinese tradition related to death people. This tradition is usually held after 100 days someone passed away. The deceased’s family then prepare his or her ‘new eternal house’ right after their family member kicked the bouquet of daisy. The ‘house’ is made of selected papers, even if so, some of the papers are imported directly from China.

In Semarang, I ever visited a paper house maker in Gang Cilik (Small alley) within Semarang Chinatown (we call Pecinan). He has been producing the eternal house since 1960s and his ancestors were also the eternal house makers when they were still in China. Talking about the size, the eternal house depends on family’s financial abilities. Though actually it is not a must, but some still believe that eternal house burning represent their love to the deceased. As the maker said, at least for the smallest eternal house, it costs IDR 1 million, while the largest one can be more than IDR 10 millions up. The house is usually complete with furnitures, rooms, servants and it is made in perfectly detailed as the family requested. Besides house, they also prepare vehicles, money box, clothes (all are made of papers), and some deceased’s belongings, as well as paper money for his or her in eternity. There is a different view between Confucians and Buddhist. As far as I know, for Buddhist, house paper burning here is intended to fasten the deceased’s reincarnation (correct me if there’s a mistake).



The eternal house burning is held in a Chinese Temple (we call here Klenteng), and it can last for hours (in my experience, more than three hours) or in some cases, one day from morning until evening with some breaks.

In the temple, there have been prepared the eternal house which looks as if the real house with all its properties, along with the eyes covered gods (which will be pulled out when the ceremony starts) and long tables with offerings whose numbers similar to the deceased children.

The rites was started by praying led by the priest and the language spoken during pray was Chinese and Pali, as well as translated into Bahasa Indonesia. What I remembered here was praying several times in different directions, then followed by giving respect to their deceased family and stopped a while for having dinner along with anyone there. At the time I was offered mie titee (pork leg noodles), but I said I couldn’t eat it (as pork is unlawful in Islam) so I just had es campur and wedang kacang (peanut beverage). Then, the rite was continued by pray to god whose responsible to debt and financial, and the god was burnt for bringing messages to the nirvana.


Afterwards, the house was brought out of the temple. The deceased’s family prayed by walking around the house several times, after pouring the paper money surely. Finally, the house was burnt which done by family members, especially the children. But before, the family took pictures near the house prior to be ‘sent’ to their deceased family.

I have seen the rite twice, one in a temple on Jl. Sebandaran and last week in Tay Kak Sie temple (Gang Lombok).

This tradition is rarely seen (my friends even saw it for the first time when I guided them to Semarang Chinatown), even once a year and not all Chinese families do this rite. But seeing this event has widened my point of view about many beliefs in Indonesia. The differences shouldn’t be viewed by only one sided-mind, but  through many sides and it will grow our tolerance towards others. This is what I dream about Indonesia.


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Bambang Priantono

20 May 2013


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About Bambang Priantono

kerA ngalaM tulen (Arek Malang) yang sangat mencintai Indonesia. Jebolan Universitas Airlangga Surabaya. Kecintaannya akan pendidika dan anak-anak membawanya sekarang berkarya di Sekolah Terpadu Pahoa, Tangerang. Artikel-artikelnya unik dan sebagian dalam bahasa Inggris, dengan alasan khusus, supaya lebih bergaung di dunia internasional melalui blognya dan

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5 Comments to "Paper House Burning, One of Chinese Traditions Remained (or revived?)"

  1. Silvia  30 May, 2013 at 06:19

    Suami dan saya juga akhir thn 2011 kehilangan emak suami dr pihak mama. Suami juga tdnya disuruh ikutan prosesi keagamaan oleh paman dia yg plg tua dr pihak mamanya. Tapi suami bisa dgn tenang bilang bhw kami ga bisa ikutan prosesi keagamaan dan hanya akan ikut prosesi penghormatan terakhir kpd emaknya.

    Perpindahan keyakinan atau memilh keyakinan tertentu di usia dewasa memang harus siap akan ada nya friksi/penolakan dr klg inti/besar. Harus siap bayar harganya.

  2. Silvia  30 May, 2013 at 06:11

    Sudah ga praktekin lagi sejak menyerahkan diri kpd Yesus.

    Nyekar masih tapi ga bakar2an dan ga mengucapkan doa ke leluhur yg sdh meninggal termasuk kepada papa saya yg sangat amat sy kasihi.

    Tahun lalu ketika emaknya suami meninggal juga cuma ikutan memberikan penghormatan terakhir saja. Saya juga sayang sekali sm beliau. Paman suami kedua yg aktif di agamanya pengen suami, saya dan anak2 ikut dlm prosesi keagamaan cara dia. Tapi suami dan sy tdk mau.

    Suami sy cucu laki tertua di pihak papanya. Papa mertua saya sih sudah ngerti dari sejak suami tidak mau ikutan prosesi keagamaan ketika engkongnya meninggal. Paman suami yg ketiga juga langsung intervensi ketika mendengar kakaknya memberikan perintah tsb kpd kami, ” Biarkan mereka. Jgn ajak mrk ikut dlm prosesi keagamaan yg bertentangan dg iman mrk kpd Kristus.”

  3. J C  29 May, 2013 at 21:24

    Mas Bambang, this one is really interesting. To me is not strange at all, since my family has done it. In my family, this burning is done during the 49th days after family member passed away. The expert one can make this paper house extremely detail and beautiful, and of course the price is also “beautiful”.

    Co Kong Tik what you wrote is Hokkien dialect, my guess is from Zu Gong De (祖公德), not sure whether is correct or not.

    And for your information, in case you are interested to come, there will be International Conference on “Chinese-Indonesians: Their Lives and Identities”, 14-16 November in Semarang. I’m considering to participate, but I need to coordinate with some friends here first, and I will let you know.

  4. Lani  29 May, 2013 at 10:09

    oops, sorry………BP

  5. Lani  29 May, 2013 at 10:08

    JP: jd ingat krn pernah mengalami sendiri……….

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