It is an annual tradition for Chinese to visit the tombs of loved ones and ancestors on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox—called Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day (this year it fell on April 5)— to clear weeds, place flowers, light incense, read eulogies, and weep openly.
But come the Internet age, mainland Chinese have begun outsourcing their reverence to professionals.
A range of businesses now offering a soup-to-nuts veneration service on behalf of family members—for a fee.
“We will convey your grieve with the utmost sincere hearts,” reads a slogan of a “proxy tomb sweeping” online store.
A quick search of Taobao—China’s Amazon or eBay equivalent—brings up more than 20 online stores offering these services. College students are behind some of these operations, according to state-run Yangcheng Evening News.
Basic packages cost anywhere from 100 yuan (about $16) in some places to 3,000 yuan (about $488) in Hunan Province. Professional mourners will also cry at graves for an additional charge—online stores based in Shandong Province charge 100 yuan (about $16), while those in Tianjin ask for 20,000 yuan (about $3,254), according to Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television.
Online stores are even offering to web stream the tomb cleaning live on WeChat or Tencent QQ’s video service so that family members can check on the workers and witness the proceedings.
While some are fine with “proxy tomb sweeping”—a 30-year-old Mr. Guan told Chinese Internet company Sohu that getting a proxy is convenient for those based overseas—the older generation isn’t too happy with this phenomenon.
State-run Chongqing Morning Post ran a story about how a Mr. Zhou considered engaging professional mourners because it was getting harder for his elderly mother to make the trip to the cemetery, but was scolded for his efforts.
“People are predestined to come together as relatives this lifetime,” said Granny He. “Your old dad worked hard for this family; he would be very sad if he saw strangers visiting him during the Qingming Festival.”