Chinese going online for tomb sweeping

Virtual memorials to loved ones on rise in wake of pandemic lockdowns

By LI LEI | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-05 08:58
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A couple takes bouquets of flowers to a cemetery in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on March 16. CHINA DAILY

During the pandemic lockdowns, virtual memorials gained popularity due to the disruption of in-person tomb sweeping.

Even as restrictions have eased, families, friends and former colleagues continue to visit online memorials on Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, and other important occasions.

Tech companies have revamped their products to go along with this enduring popularity.

Some have transitioned away from designs best suited for desktops and laptops, focusing instead on smaller screens such as smartphones and tablets, aiming to provide round-the-clock access through portable devices.

Others have employed technologies like generative artificial intelligence chatbots and animated photos to make the age-old tradition more interactive and laden with emotional value.

Created in 2013 first in the format of a website and then morphing into a built-in service on the messaging tool WeChat, Gurenju, or Home of the Deceased, is a shorthand of this trend.

One message on Gurenju, reads: "Deeply mourning my kind father Lu Shuming." Clicking on the message ushers visitors to a digital hall dedicated to the late stage actor from Xi'an, Shaanxi province, who died from a heart attack in 2022 at the age of 66.

Inside is a portrait of Lu depicting him with a salt-and-pepper beard, looking resolutely at the camera. A detailed obituary is attached below, highlighting the award-winning actor's career, including his performance in a play in Beijing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic of China in 1999.

The obituary, signed by Lu's family, said, "With over 40 years of his artistic involvement, my father has always respected life in artistic creation and adhered to drawing inspiration from life."

The hall, adorned with white-and-yellow wreaths and decorated with funeral couplets conveying condolences and good wishes, allows visitors to present virtual offerings such as lanterns, wreaths and incense, free of charge, and leave a few lines of kind words.

Since its creation, the digital venue has garnered 8,600 views, as the memorial's publicly accessible visiting record showed, with many occurring in the weeks leading up to this year's Qingming.

Lu's digital memorial and others like it flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic when on-site tomb sweeping was discouraged as part of a national effort to curb large gatherings and contain the highly contagious disease. As a result, cyberspace became a makeshift mourning space for those who died before or during the pandemic. However, even with the pandemic now behind them, the Chinese seem to have embraced cyber-based tomb sweeping, especially through mobile devices.

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