Across central China in the remote valleys to the south of the Yangtze River, you will find the most unique burial places. The hanging coffins are suspended so high that they are often barely visible from the ground below. They have been discovered in crevices of the cliff face, anchored on limestone rock about 30 meters high (almost 100 feet), balanced on wooden cantilevered stakes, or stacked in man-made caves 300 feet up in Guizhou province, a landlocked, mountainous province in central south China.
This ‘burial’ practice was followed by Yao and Miao minorities in the region. It is believed that the higher the coffins were placed, and therefore closer to Heaven, the greater the respect of the deceased. The suspension of the coffins slowed down decomposition of the body which ensured afterlife and immortality of the spirit; and on a more practical aspect it prevented animals from poaching the bodies and kept land free to farm.
The practice of hanging coffins can also be found in the Philippines, most famously in Sagada.
Another curiosity of the Miao ethnic group is the belief in a supernatural power around them that decides their fate. The Miao worship tree spirits and equate human life cycles with those of trees. Firs are the only wood used for burial and only firs over 60 years old are large enough. Therefore, villagers plant trees for themselves and their descendants every year. New parents plant a fir sapling from which their children’s future coffin will be carved.
Following the burial another young tree is transplanted atop the grave site – this is the only marker for the deceased – transforming what should be a cemetery into a forest of trees.