Tomb Sweeping: the Need to be there

He sacrificed to the dead, as if they were present. He sacrificed to the spirits, as if the spirits were present. The Master said, “I consider my not being present at the sacrifice, as if I did not sacrifice.”
The Analects

Guangzhou’s Yinhe Cemetary (银河园), next to Guangzhou Crematorium, has seen the first peak of worshippers this weekend. About 20,000 people gave their respects to their ancestors, more than a week ahead of the official tomb sweeping day (清明节), which is on April 5 this year, reports Southern Metropolis Daily (南方都市报). Bringing forward the visits to the cemetary helped to “see” ones ancestors somewhat earlier, and to avoid the rush expected on and around Tomb Sweeping Day itself.

The Guangzhou crematorium added 200 jì bài tái (祭拜台, shines or benches for burning incense) this year, and with more such benches, worship becomes more efficient, Southern Metropolis writes with some discomfort. If it was up to the cemetary’s management, ancestral tablets rather than the ashes of the dead would be the object of worship, but the public doesn’t seem to approve of the idea. Southern Metropolis quotes visitors as saying that only when they see the ashes of their loved ones, their mind is at ease. It’s worth taking the trouble of coming to the cemetary, they say.

The paper writes that the actual issue isn’t efficiency, but the funeral industry’s profits, and quotes China National Radio (CNR) as reporting on Sunday that funeral-related articles and services such as cinerary caskets at a wholesale price of 260 Yuan are sold to mourners at astronomical 16,000 Yuan in the Beijing-Tianjin area.

The bereaved are often facing a “deal-or-no-deal” situation, as the funeral company’s are mostly state-owned. As the relatives of the deceased are frequently facing a monopolist crematorium, their refusal to  agree to its services and price list can lead to a rather undignified treatment for the dead, writes Southern Metropolis.



汶川震后首个清明节,, April 4, 2009
Rising Cost of Dying, Financial Times, April 28, 2009
Ba Yi, The Analects, Chinese Text Project

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