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Online Condolences Set to Rise
Zhu Baifan used his mobile phone to send a commemorative message and a virtual bouquet of flower to an online memorial for Su Buqing, a prominent Chinese mathematician who died recently.

Zhu, who lives in Fujian Province, used the service as it was the most convenient way to pay homage to a notable figure. Zhu's condolences were among those sent by other mobile users or net surfers to Su's online memorial.

"Many people live far from their home towns, so online condolences are the best way for them to express their feelings for lost friends and relatives," said Zhu.

The memorial was established on www.netor.com, one of many such Websites in the world. Visitors to the Website find memorials for many other Chinese figures, including late Premier Zhou Enlai, great patriot Zhang Xueliang, and the country's revolutionary forefather Sun Yat-sen.

As many as 20,000 online memorials have been created on the Website by ordinary people in memory of relatives and friends, with visitor hits reaching 800,000 per day and up to 1 million on special occasions, like the traditional Chinese "tomb sweeping" day on April 5.

As the festival for worshipping at ancestral graves on April 5 draws near, many people go online or use mobile phones to remember their loved ones by dedicating condolences, flowers, candles, incense, and songs.

Online condolences made their debut in China in 2000 and the number of virtual memorials has soared thanks to economic growth and increased public awareness of environment and land protection.

Having a loved one's ashes buried under a tree or flowers, or dispersed into the sea are among other new trends which more Chinese are pursuing for funerals, a big change from the tradition of burial in an elaborate tomb.

Ding Kai, a sociology expert at Peking University, said that since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, funerals had undergone two big changes with the requirement for cremation and the discouraging of burials to conserve land.

An average of 65 of every 10,000 people in China dies each year and nearly half of the dead are cremated.

Although most ashes are placed in mourning halls or buried in public cemeteries, nearly 70 million square meters of land is used for graves and tombs each year.

However, thanks to social development and changing public attitudes, different methods of disposing of the dead are finding growing favor among Chinese people, especially the younger generation.

In Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province, the traditional burning of paper as money for the dead to use in the afterlife and mass funeral gatherings are now seldom seen.

Nationally, more than 20 big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin have launched campaigns to advocate the practice of ashes burial under trees or spreading at sea.

(Xinhua News Agency March 24, 2003)

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