TANG XIN: Once I dreamt of a girl who had died when she was 18. Actually, she killed herself. It was very tragic, she jumped off a building and smashed with her head on the ground so her brain was scattered all over the place. It was horrible. We cleaned up the mess and the same night I dreamt of her. In my dream she was smiling at me and I wondered how I could be dreaming of her. Everything had been all right during the day. In the dream she was wearing the kind of clothes that dead people are put on, and she also wore makeup. She waved her hand at me. I thought: “Isn’t she dead already? Then why is she waiving at me?” Then I slowly woke up. When I remember this dream I always think maybe the girl regretted killing herself, maybe she wanted to tell me something. Perhaps she didn’t really want to jump off the building. When she was brought into the mortuary I felt really bad. I always feel pity when young people are brought into the mortuary. So young and pretty and already dead.
This happened in May 2007. The building was about 8 or 10 meters high. When we arrived at the scene the girl was already lying on the ground. Policemen and doctors were there as well, to see if they could save the girl’s life, but she died there on the spot. The scene had been sealed off and the girl was lying there with her head smashed and her brain scattered everywhere. We took her to the mortuary and cleaned her face and changed her clothes. We filled her head with cotton and put some makeup on her face. That’s what we do at the mortuary. After the whole process she looked much more peaceful.
In my dream, the girl didn’t look at all the way she looks in real life. She didn’t seem to be dead at all, she was very lively and had a very sweet smile. She knew she was dead but she kept smiling all the time. She also said something but I don’t remember what it was. It seemed as if she wanted to tell me something but she couldn’t communicate herself. That’s what it felt like to me in the dream. It only lasted a few minutes, then I woke up. I had this dream a long time ago but it still impresses me a lot.
People think that in the mortuary we are in contact with dead people. But we don’t call them “dead people”, we call them “people who used to be alive”. When you work with people who used to be alive, of course you see a lot of dead bodies. Most people don’t really know what this job is about, they are afraid of death. But for us this is just a job. When you start working in this job, of course at first you must get used to being in touch with cadavers, you must learn how to handle them. We see a lot of different causes of death, natural death as well as murder or death by accident and so on. We see these things every day. But I like this job, I really like it. Actually most of the time we are dealing with the families of the people who used to be alive. Because after preparing the body, we put it in the coffin and we don’t touch it anymore. In China we have a lot of respect for dead people, we try not to disturb their rest, that’s a tradition in China. So we are dealing with their families most of the time.
When I first started working in this job, I was also quite scared. I had never done this before, so I didn’t really know what this job was about. I had no clear idea of the mortuary or even of death, I thought that dead people just don’t breathe and that’s all. But the first time I saw a dead body and touched it, it was totally different. I still remember that moment, I was quite scared even though my colleagues were there to help me. I looked at the corpse, it wasn’t breathing, just lying there, dead. I hesitated to touch him, I was afraid he might suddenly sit up. But by and by, very slowly, I began to understand this job and started to like it. Now I’m no longer afraid.