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Sunday, April 5, 1998 Published at 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK


Grave sweeping tradition under threat in China
image: [ A Chinese man paints the inscription on his parent's grave north of Beijing ]
A Chinese man paints the inscription on his parent's grave north of Beijing

People across China have been commemorating the annual Grave-Sweeping Festival by paying their respects at their ancestors' graves.

The festival, which falls on April 5th each year, is an important part of Chinese tradition, yet as the Chinese government seeks to promote cremation as an alternative to burial it is undergoing a number of changes.

Duncan Hewitt reports from Beijing.

Across China families have marked the so-called Grave-Sweeping Festival by laying offerings to their ancestors and tending their tombs.

Yet for many people the day now means a trip to a modern air-conditioned complex, where their ancestors' cremated ashes are preserved in an urn.

The Chinese government, striving to feed the world's largest population on a limited area of arable land, has promoted cremation in an attempt to stop the expansion of cemeteries.

China's late leader, Deng Xiaoping, led the way in overcoming traditional taboos about preserving the integrity of the body.

His remains were cremated and his ashes scattered at sea. And this year has seen mass ceremonies in which hundreds of urban residents have followed suit.

One 83 year old Beijing man scattering his wife's ashes at sea was quoted as saying he wanted to leave more living space in the world for future generations.

Official media condemn tradition

But official media have also criticised the recent revival of customs banned in China's revolution, particularly the burning of so-called `hell money' as an offering to the dead.

One article warned local officials against wasting public money on lavish ceremonies and engaging in what it called `practices steeped in superstition'.

More practically one northern Chinese province has banned the burning of `hell money' because of the risk of forest fires.

Authorities are suggesting that people should supplement traditional offerings of food and drink by laying flowers or planting trees in memory of their relatives.

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