Planet China

Grave concerns

In his 2008 book The Corpse Walker, dissident poet Liao Yiwu describes a conversation with a former kusang or professional mourner. “Most people who have lost a family member burst into tears and begin wailing upon seeing the body of the deceased. But their wailing doesn’t last. When grief enters their hearts they suffer shock or pass out. But for us we get into the mood… and can wail for as long as required,” he quotes the mourner, Mr Li, as saying. Li goes on to say that during the Cultural Revolution this profession all but disappeared. Now, however, a new form of the service is available once more on China’s popular shopping platform Taobao. For a fee, urbanites can hire professional sweepers to visit their ancestors’ tombs to pay their respects, as well as burn incense and paper offerings. One company promises that their employees “will dress appropriately, bathe, and wear brown shoes and black socks to create a solemn look,” the Guangming Daily reports. Other newspapers say that this year’s offerings include replica villas, gold necklaces, mobile phone chargers and even mistresses to keep dead relatives happy. By burning the effigies, mourners believe their ancestors can use them in the afterlife.

But for many Chinese, the new hiring service is a perversion of the country’s culture. The point of the Qingming Festival – celebrated last weekend – is for people to show reverence for dead relatives by sweeping their graves personally, not paying for someone else to do it.


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