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Mourners Send Dead Cash, Cars, Condoms

They say you can't take your money with you when you die, but in China you can have it sent to you in the afterlife, along with a new car, a luxury villa and, if needed, a box of Viagra.

With the Qingming Festival, or "tomb sweeping day," arriving on Sunday, many local residents are stocking up on sacrificial gifts to send to their dead relatives in the afterlife.

For thousands of years, Chinese have burned fake money for their relatives to spend in the nether world, but with the country's economic development the dead have been receiving a large number of curious gifts in recent years.

In the late 1990s, funeral homes began selling paper cars and villas to those who wanted to ensure their ancestors rest in luxury.

New gifts this year open the promise of enjoying a busy sex life long after shuffling off this mortal coil. Paper call girls, condoms and Viagra are being sold at funeral homes around Shanghai.

For ancestors who preferred to be physically active outside the bedroom, markets in Tianjin are selling paper golf clubs.

Tianjin in northern China is also a good place to buy gifts for those paranoid ancestors in the great beyond, with paper bodyguards and mercenary armies on sale beside gift credit cards and international passports.

Staff with the Shanghai Baoxing Funeral Home on Xibaoxing Road say the variety of superstitious products sold locally has been increasing quickly over the past five years.

In the past, they say, Chinese people set out offerings of food and spirit money at the tombs of their ancestors during the festival, hoping that these sacrifices could keep the deceased happy. The deceased then were expected to give their blessing to the gift giver, ensuring future prosperity.

While the paper gifts have traditionally been very cheap to buy in the city, some of the new offerings will set you back more than a few yuan (US$1=8.29 yuan). For instance, a three-storied villa costs some 80 yuan (US$9.68), while a human figure goes for about 100 yuan (US$12.1).

Various currencies, both the Chinese renminbi and foreign denominations, sell for about 0.5 yuan (6 US cents) for a small stack. All the currencies are issued by the "central bank" of Mingjie, or the nether world, and feature a portrait of the King of Mingjie.

"People burn paper luxuries because they hope their deceased beloved ones will enjoy a comfortable life in a world they know nothing about," said Zhao Xiaohu, vice director of Baoxing Funeral Home. "They are superstitious, but that is still understandable."

"Selling paper-made funeral products or burning them at the tomb is illegal," said Song Shouqin, director of the Shanghai Funeral Federation. "But since burning Jinyuanbao (an ancient form of gold currency) to the dead is a custom followed by Chinese for thousands of years, it's really impossible for us to ban it.

"As for the emergence of some disgusting things like condoms and Viagra, I regard it as corruption of public morals. These offerings show no respects to the dead, but only insults," the director said.

(Shanghai Daily April 2, 2004)

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