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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
China honours dead on the web
A man visits a grave at Beijing's Babaoshan cemetery
Grave visits remain popular with many Chinese
Web-savvy Chinese are sending virtual flowers to honour their dead relatives, rather than visiting the actual graves.

Friday was Qing Ming festival, when Chinese traditionally visit their ancestors' graves to sweep them and offer cakes and fruit.

Netor Memorial website
The website has a choice of virtual bouquets you can send
Millions of people are sticking to the custom, with an estimated 80,000 people visiting Beijing tombs alone.

But many Chinese are apparently turning to more modern methods, according to the offiical Xinhua news agency.

The biggest website for sending memorial messages is Netor Memorial, where visitors can click on one of 11,000 "memorial halls" for the dead, light virtual candles in their memory and send cyber-flowers.

National hero

The site honours ordinary people as well as the famous.

Wang Wei, the Chinese fighter pilot who died in a mid-air collision with a US spy-plane, 1 April 2001
Visitors have flocked to Wang Wei's memorial page
"The internet is not real, but it has neither rain nor wind," one grieving son wrote in a message to his dead father. "Dear Dad, I can talk to you here whenever I want to."

The site's most popular memorial page is for Wang Wei, a Chinese fighter pilot who became a national hero when he was killed in a mid-air collision with a US spy plane last April.

His page had had more than 158,000 visitors by late Friday local time.

But for remembering relatives, not everyone approves of online gestures.

"Without a personal tour of where your loved one is buried, how can you show your filial piety in a sincere way?" a Beijing resident told the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper.

Chinese authorities are reported to be happy to minimise personal tomb visits, because of the custom of burning gifts at the graveside to ensure material comfort of dead relatives.

The problem with this tradition is the air pollution it creates and the increased risk of fire, the China Daily said.

The Qing Ming festival, or Remembrance of Ancestors Day, always falls in early April as it is one of the few Chinese festivals to follow the solar calendar rather than the moon.

"For people on the move in the modern world the tradition is difficult to observe, and the internet has become the ideal alternative," Xinhua said.

See also:

18 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pilot remembered in cyberspace
04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese begin cyber-mourning
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