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Paying respects at 'cyber tombs' of China

world Updated: Apr 07, 2010 12:30 IST

IANS
Highlight Story

Those who cannot go to their native places to pay respects to deceased relatives can now do so with the click of a mouse at 'cyber tombs' - a phenomenon fast gaining popularity in China.

Chinese people have started a low-cost and low-carbon method to pay respects to the dead, a move that gained tremendous popularity during 'Qingming' or tomb sweeping day, China Daily reported.

The tomb sweeping day is a traditional festival observed in China in spring when people tend to the graves of the departed. Since the holiday is so short, people sometimes cannot go back to their hometowns to pay their respects, which led a few people to devise new methods.

Song Qin, a legal consultant based in Beijing, has set up two online tombs for his grandparents, who are actually buried in Anhui province. Each online tomb costs him only 10 yuan ($1.5), while a real tomb is usually priced at thousands of yuan.

Song has posted memorable stories about his grandparents along with photos, in a cyber service launched by the China Funeral Association.

"The webpage of the tombs is similar to blogs and it's a very modern and low-carbon way to celebrate the traditional festival, suitable for young Chinese with so much pressure at work," he said.

The association claims more than 14,000 online tombs have been established.

Logging on to the website, users can click the provinces or regions on a map to choose the location of the graveyard, depending on where the departed used to live. Then, after selecting the graveyard, they can purchase tombs using virtual coins, which cost one yuan for 10 coins.

Once the whole process is through, users can offer flowers, light candles and burn incense sticks to pay their respects.

Ye Dongdong, one of the founders of the service, said though the website was started as a free service, it will turn commercial in future.

Ye, however, said they created the website not to replace the traditional ceremonies, but to supplement the ways people can express their respects and feelings to the departed.

The online services are also able to fulfil otherwise difficult wishes from the departed, Ye said. "For example, if the deceased wanted to be in South Africa, we can set the background of the tombs to a prairie there."

However, not everyone is happy.

Shen He, a 27-year-old tour guide based in Beijing, said: "I'm fed up with the annual tomb sweeping activities because of the crowds and traffic jams, and also the bad air full of ashes at the graveyard.

"But the online tomb looks like a computer game and I don't like this way of memorialising, as it is not solemn."

A 73-year-old resident in Xinjiang Uygur region, Tang Binling said: "It is difficult for me to accept the online memorial because we need to formally show respect to our departed relatives, visiting their tombs and bowing to their portraits, rather than just clicking a mouse."