Last Wednesday, China held a public holiday for the traditional Qing Ming Festival. Also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, families tend to their ancestors by visiting grave sites. They then burn paper replicas of daily necessities like clothes, money and cars, in hope of making the afterlife a little easier for the deceased.
As China grows wealthier, the ceremonial offerings are expanding in range and tone. In the last few years, replicas of Louis Vuitton handbags and even miniature villas have become popular. Plus there are cardboard helicopters, electric massage chairs and watches (preferably smeared in gold veneer).
BMW or Mercedes cut-outs have also become hot offerings.
“A BMW for Rmb20 – it doesn’t come cheaper than that!” one vendor shouted on a Beijing street last week, reported Xinhua.
“Buy one for the old man so he can have a luxurious experience in the afterlife,” went the hard-sell.
And how about bikini-clad mistress dolls (cardboard again, rather than inflatable)? They were also available at stalls near cemeteries and online on Taobao, the country’s largest shopping website. A saleswoman at one stall told Chongqing Evening News that she was selling made-to-order mistresses for Rmb20 ($3.20). “Villas, cars, mistresses, we make whatever items you can think of,” she said.
Consumers don’t stint on their ancestors, with some even burning paper gadgets to “let dead relatives feel the development of society”.
According to the Beijing Morning Post, paper-made Apple products have become a particular fad. A high-quality iPhone 4 or an iPad 2 complete with an earphone and battery charger was costing Rmb100 ($16) and more. And like the genuine Apple products, these fancy imitations were available only through advanced booking, due to their time-consuming fabrication, said one shopowner. Some thoughtful vendors were charging extra to draw the Angry Bird app, a popular game for the smartphone, on the paper format of the gadget.
Perhaps you are wondering how someone who died decades ago would know how to operate such advanced technology?
No need to worry: “Steve Jobs is there,” one vendor explained. “He should be able to teach the oldies how to use an iPhone. But don’t forget to burn the charger too, or the old man will have a hard time trying to use it.”
But it seems that inflation is hitting the afterworld too, with complaints that the costs of ceremonial offerings have gone up in recent years.
“A paper-made foreign-brand car, Louis Vuitton bag or a set of Western-style suits now sells at Rmb40 ($6.4) in many sacrificial offering shops, up about 50% compared with the price recorded just a year ago,” a shop owner admitted to the China Daily.
Sociology expert Deng Yi says that the purpose of the Qing Ming Festival is to show respect for one’s ancestors and to demonstrate filial piety towards parents.
Instead, too many of the celebrants seem caught up in this origami-style orgy of paper offerings.
“This new type of tomb-sweeping represents the rise of materialism and reflects what’s wrong with society,” Deng laments.
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