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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Chinese begin cyber-mourning
Man visiting grave
A man visits a grave at Beijing's Babaoshan cemetery
Thousands of Chinese are turning to the internet to continue the tradition of ancestor worship which dates back thousands of years.

While past generations of Chinese would have turned to shrines or graves to pay their respects to dead relatives, modern urban Chinese are visiting virtual "memorial halls".

A website devoted to the subject said it had 300,000 visits within days of its launch.

The city intends to set up a website that will enable people to mourn their departed loved ones with just a few clicks of the mouse

Shanghai Daily newspaper
Users of the site can build memorial halls out of a range of religious and architectural styles and add photographs, obituaries, text and music to their hall. Visitors can light candles and or lay virtual flowers in the hall.

Memorial halls can be constructed free, although the company, which was founded by Beijing computer graduates with Singapore investment, eventually plans to make some charges.

The Shanghai local government also announced on Tuesday that it is planning to set up a similar website by June.

"The city intends to set up a website that will enable people to mourn their departed loved ones with just a few clicks of the mouse," the Shanghai Daily reported.

Incense is burned as an offering
The planned site will also offer a virtual mourning hall where photographs, flowers, candles and music can be posted, as well as encouraging other forms of burial such as the scattering of ashes at sea.

Authorities are worried that burial space will run out in the next six years in the city, which buries 100,000 bodies each year.

Grave-sweeping day

The city's announcement came just before Qing Ming, Remembrance of Ancestors Day, which falls on Wednesday.

The occasion, also known as "grave-sweeping day", is when families visit graves of relatives to sweep them clean and make offerings of cake, fruit and incense. Inscriptions on headstones are also repainted and paper "hell money" is burnt.

The Chinese Government, which amended its constitution to permit freedom of religion in 1982, has tried to discourage the practice of "superstition". However, the interest in traditional rites continues to grow.

Ancestral worship, part of Confucianism, is still practised by the Chinese diaspora abroad, including in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia.

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