China’s Tomb Sweeping festival gets new age twist | world news | Hindustan Times
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China’s Tomb Sweeping festival gets new age twist

Many Chinese, especially those working in cities and pressed for time, now observe the festival by paying their respects to their ancestors online.

world Updated: Apr 05, 2018 19:55 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
A family pays her respects at the grave of an ancestor in Hong Kong on April 5, 2018.
A family pays her respects at the grave of an ancestor in Hong Kong on April 5, 2018.(AFP)

Millions of Chinese people will travel to their homes this week to pay homage to their ancestors by cleaning their tombs, but an increasing number is carrying out the ceremony virtually — a more convenient, albeit controversial way.

The Qingming festival, or the Tomb Sweeping Day, usually falls on April 4 or 5 and was declared a national holiday in 2008. This is the day for families to mourn their dead. Some clean the tombs of their ancestors, while others spruce them up with flowers and fruits — burning paper money is also very popular.

In 2016, more than 5.4 million people visited 150 burial sites across the country, the China Daily newspaper reported, citing official data. For those unable to make the journey, internet firms have stepped in to provide an alternative.

Numbers are not readily available but many Chinese, especially those working in cities and pressed for time, now pay their respects to their dead relatives online.

Some cemeteries offer to get their staff to clean and beautify the tombs while family members watch via live streaming. Cemeteries also operate online memorial pages where families can buy and offer virtual gifts.

“Online morning is our latest effort to try something new,” Li Chonglu, manager of a cemetery in the southwestern Sichuan province, told the official Xinhua news agency. “It follows the trend of making tomb-sweeping a spiritual exercise. We mourn together even though we are physically apart. Why not?”

The government seems to be encouraging this trend, criticised by some as an easy way out.

The official magazine of the Communist Party’s central commission for discipline inspection published a list of do’s and don’ts for tomb sweeping on Wednesday but avoided the topic of online ceremonies.

The magazine directed public officials not to drive a public car to the family tomb or hire Feng Shui masters or mediums to invoke the dead, and urged officials not to “make a scene” at cemeteries.

The article also advised cadres to mourn the dead in “frugal, environment-friendly, modern, civic-minded ways”. That means “online” to many Chinese with a little additional offering of virtual sincerity.