Cyber 'burial sites' offer a chance for relatives and friends to memorialize those who passed away
BEIJING - Chinese people have started experimenting with a convenient, low-cost and low-carbon way to pay respects to the dead by just clicking a mouse, a move that became especially popular during Monday's Qingming Festival.
Since the holiday is so short, Song Qin, a Beijing-based legal consultant, cannot go back to his hometown in East China's Anhui province to pay respects to his deceased grandparents.
A man pays his respect via the Internet to three college students who sacrificed their lives while trying to rescue two drowning children last October. [Xinhua]
However, Song has his own way of showing respect after having set up two online tombs for them. Each tomb costs him only 10 yuan ($1.50), compared to a real tomb, which is usually priced at tens of thousands of yuan.
He also posted memorable stories about him and his grandparents along with many photos.
"The Web page of the online 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 cyber service is provided by 1000soul.com, an online commemoration platform under tsingming.com, which was jointly launched on March 31 by the China Funeral Association, Alephan Group and Beijing Zhina Global Investment Management Co Ltd.
According to Web statistics, more than 14,000 online tombs were established by Sunday.
Logging onto 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 copper coins, which cost one yuan for 10 coins.
Once the whole process is done, users can offer flowers, light candles, burn incense and chant to pay their respects.
Ye Dongdong, one of the founders and the product development manager of 1000soul.com, told China Daily that, with a group of about 30 employees, the website was started through an angel investor. Although most of the services are free at this time, it is a commercial portal.
"Charges and new services in the future will depend on the feedback from our users," Ye said.
According to a survey by tsingming.com, only 11 percent of respondents would choose an online funeral, while more than half still prefer interment.
Ye said they created the online funeral and commemoration not to replace the traditional ceremonies, but to supplement the ways people can express their respect and feelings to the departed.
The online services are also easily able to fulfill 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."
Zhu Yong, deputy director of the 101 Research Institute under the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said the green concept of interment prevails in many countries. Online burials can avoid the waste of natural and social resources, providing people a convenient way to commemorate the dead, he said.
Shen He, a 27-year-old tour guide based in Beijing, said: "I admit that 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 memorializing, as it is not solemn."
Tang Binling, a 73-year-old resident in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, said: "It is difficult for me to accept the online memorial, because we need to formally show respect to our passed-away relatives, visiting their tombs and bowing to their portraits, rather than just clicking a mouse."
"I don't care if my children only set up an online tomb when I pass away. I don't want them to spend a lot of money on unnecessary things," he said. "I hope they're able to use the money to live a better life."