Tomb sweeping in China goes green: Don't burn hell money, use 'mobile payment'

Children playing on a smartphone while their family pay respects to their ancestors at a public cemetery in Shanghai, on April 4, 2017.
Children playing on a smartphone while their family pay respects to their ancestors at a public cemetery in Shanghai, on April 4, 2017.ST PHOTO: JOHANNES EISELE

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - An environmentally savvy cemetery in East China has started a virtual bank for paying tribute to the dead as the nation encourages a new, green way of tomb sweeping.

The Nanjing Yuhua Cemetery, in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, called the service the "Bank of Heaven". Instead of burning spirit money, visitors scan a QR code and enter the names of the dead and the amount of spirit money allotted to finish the process, which costs nothing in real money.

Besides the amount transferred, they can also write down what they want to say to their dead loved ones.

Around Tomb Sweeping Day, on April 5 this year, many Chinese burn representations of goods made out of paper, including money, cellphones, cars and houses, to benefit those in the afterlife.

According to the China Consumers Association, in recent years Chinese have burned about 1,000 metric tonnes of such paper goods annually at a cost of 10 billion yuan (S$2 billion) and aggravated air pollution.

Mr Ye Zhengsheng, manager of the cemetery, said that the Bank of Heaven has been welcomed.

"Most of the people we spoke to agreed to use the virtual bank instead of burning spirit money," he said. "We've noticed few people burning paper products in front of the tombs."

The cemetery, he said, has been trying for years to find a way around burning paper. It tried to replace the paper with flowers and encouraged volunteers to talk visitors out of burning the paper products.

"We'll continue to develop more acceptable, environmentally friendly ways for people to sweep tombs. The cemetery will reach carbon neutrality in two to three years."

However, not everyone agrees to virtual bank transfers.

"It's completely unacceptable," said Madam Chen Jing, a 64-year-old Nanjing resident.

"Tomb sweeping is for us to remember our deceased beloved ones and certain ceremonies are necessary," she said.

"Burning paper products has been passed down from generation to generation. Transferring money through a virtual bank on a cellphone makes the ceremonies informal and incomplete."

Many cities have tried to encourage environmentally friendly tomb sweeping, which has been increasingly accepted.

In Jiangsu province, white chrysanthemums are sold out in many flower shops. Some cemeteries provide free flowers to replace burning paper.

In Suzhou, Fenghuang Cemetery hands out ribbons and cards for visitors to send regards to the dead. In Taizhou, fewer than five families chose to scatter the ashes of the dead at such areas as a river or the sea in 2018, but this year about 40 families chose to scatter ashes over a cemetery.