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Chinese Grieve Loved Ones at Cyber-memorials
Traditionally, Chinese mourn their deceased at graveyards and memorial halls. Nowadays, they can visit the cyber world to express their sorrow, as modernization meets ancient customs.

A busy media worker surnamed Wu in China's capital used to go to the cemetery to offer sacrifices at her father's grave on Qingming (Pure Brightness) Festival, which falls on April 5 and is regarded by Chinese as a special day for worshipping ancestors.

But now the situation has changed somewhat. Wu has opened a virtual memorial hall for her deceased father on a local website named "Wangtong."

"In the area belonging to my father, I can go online to have a few words with him at any time," Wu said.

Like Wu, many people in China have started to express their missing of loved ones through Internet services.

Wangtong, the leading memorial website in China, now has nearly 20,000 online memorial halls, with daily visits numbering more than 10,000 on average, according to statistics.

There are also nearly 100 funeral websites operational across China.

"Online services are a new pattern for holding Internet-based memorial ceremonies," said Lu Wei. "An online memorial hall is a virtual world beyond the limits of time and space, in comparison with a real graveyard."

Web users may visit online memorial halls at any time to grieve over the deceased by sending flowers, hearing songs on demand, lighting virtual candles and leaving memorial messages on cyber forums, according to Lu Wei.

Apart from the above non-state Internet services, an online public memorial activity set up mainly by the Information Office under the State Council to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of China has seen a response from scores of media and more than 1,000 websites in China.

To offer a bundle of flowers online for ancestors and martyrs is a new form for Chinese people to express their aspiration to rejuvenate their nation, said an official from the Information Office who is in charge of the public memorial activity.

"The vitality of online memorial services lies in respecting and upgrading traditional customs," said a Chinese sociologist. "The services have injected the freshness of the new era into an everlasting humanitarian concern through high-tech means."

However, some people have expressed their disagreement with the new practice.

A Beijing resident surnamed Huang said, "I consider online worshipping not serious enough."

On every Qingming Festival, Huang and his family return to his hometown in southwest China's Sichuan Province, which is about 2,000 kilometers from Beijing, to sweep the grave of his deceased mother for worshipping.

The ancestral worshipping custom of the Qingming Festival, which has a history of more than 2,000 years, bears an irreplaceable cultural value among the Chinese, according to Yu Hai, who works for the Sociology Department of the Shanghai-based Fudan University.

It may be difficult for some Chinese people to accept substituting the traditional worshipping rituals with online services, Yu said.

Despite the disapproval, online memorial services seem to have gained momentum as a new fashion.

Wangtong has reportedly started to offer short-message memorial services this year.

"This will provide another cyber memorial service for our customers to whom Internet surfing is at the time unavailable," said Dai Xidong, market manager with Wangtong.

(Xinhua News Agency April 5, 2003)

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