The Tomb Sweeping Festival is a sombre occasion where the living visit the resting places of their ancestors, making offerings to their spirits in the afterlife.
However, with greater numbers of Chinese moving away from their ancestral homes to work, making the trip to care for the dead is becoming more challenging.
In recognition of this issue, one cemetery in Nanjing got media attention this year by offering the services of professional mourners to perform the rites for absent relatives. They bowed respectfully to the deceased and presented gifts, with the ceremony beamed back to the family members on the cemetery’s WeChat account.
Other graveyards offer hi-tech services: some cemeteries paste QR codes on tombstones, which can be scanned to access virtual memorials featuring videos of the deceased. This is an especially popular service at the growing number of “urn towers” – locations where cremated remains are kept in shelf-like structures.
Urn towers have become a practical solution to the shortage of space in many of China’s sprawling cities – much like rental prices for apartments, the costs of burial plots has been surging too.
Struggling with the shortage of space and the difficulties of travelling home, some Chinese living overseas are opting for a new approach: “emigration” for their dead relatives.
An individual surnamed Tian, living in America, is one such person. “Compared to the painstaking lengths we living have to go through to obtain a green card and to then become a naturalised citizen, moving a dead person to America is far easier,” he told Guancha.
Tian, originally from Suzhou in Jiangsu province, says that a move makes sense. The main difference between graveyards in the US and in China is space. The graves he has viewed in America have a “heartening distance” between each headstone, he explains. Although the cemeteries in Suzhou are more suited to Chinese aesthetics, the gaps between the final resting places are a little too “narrow”.
An additional incentive to expatriate one’s ancestors is cost. Compared to some place in China, the expenses are more manageable. An example is the Hoi Ping Association, a club with Chinese membership, which promotes a scheme in which plots can be bought at a $300 discount to the non-member cost of $1,500-1,800.
At these prices, some of its members have been buying in bulk. Deng Xueyuan, the association’s chairman, recounts how one elderly man bought 60 plots at once, so that his extended family (presumably for the next few generations) can “reunite under the ground”.
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