In the early morning of 31 March, Ma Cancan, who studies in Nanjing’s Xianlin University Town, lightly clicked her mouse to build an “Online Memorial Hall” for her deceased grandparents, to make up for the regret she felt at not being able to return to Guyuan, Ningxia Province, to worship her ancestors during the Qingming, or Tomb-Sweeping Festival, that this year falls today, 5 April, 2019.
It is reported that online worship has gradually risen in recent years, with the Yuhua Gongde Garden in our very own Nanjing taking the lead in carrying out the nationwide, so-called “Sacrifice Sweeping Drive”. Therein, thousands of people have purchased an online memorial, while visits to such to pay respects have numbered more than 2 million.
This year, the park has also launched a digital life heritage database, which stores the voice and smiles of the deceased on hard drives. Yuhua Gongde Garden is touting such as “Ecological Burial”, calling it the realisation of “Green Network Worship”.
The advantages of online memorial halls are obvious; imagine the amount of of paper money that is burnt at this time of year all over the country, to say nothing of the fire hazards posed. Without limits of space and time, people can respect their ancestors through a click of their mouse or a swipe of their phone; convenient and fast.
And there’s more; all data can be permanently preserved for their descendants, helping people with little information as to their genealogy to better know their ancestors, by preserving their forefathers’ written words, images and audio-visual materials forever.
Yet, many are arguing that worship (祭祀) is a process; from preparing worship flowers and paper money to standing in front of the tomb and bowing with a sincere heart.
“To click buttons and store their smiles in virtual world is lacking the sense of ritual; we are allowing people to drop away from our own culture with the excuse of being too busy”, commented Wang Fan, a netizen on question-and-answer website Zhihu.
Speaking with Nanjing Daily, a manager for the Nanjing Municipal Funeral and Burial Administration said that the core of the Qingming Festival is the traditional “filial piety culture”; whether it is physical tomb worship or modern net worship, it is just in different forms.