China's consumers turn to a modern look for an ancient tradition

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Indy Lifestyle Online

One of China's most ancient rituals is currently getting a very modern makeover with people turning to recreations of the latest in gadgetry when they shop for the paper effigies burned at funerals as ming zhi pu (or "ghost money'').

The ghost money practice dates back to the Qin Dynasty of the 200s BC but it was during the Wei Dynasty that followed immediately after that effigies of regular household objects were first burned, the thinking being that the goodwill generated by making the offering would mean the deceased would continue to enjoy the objects' use in the afterlife.

And so today people are now turning to effigies of everything from smartphones to digital cameras, game consoles and even designer clothes - with prices beginning at around HK$50 (€4), and they are using the internet to find these objects of desire.

One of Hong Kong's most famous "ming zhi pu'' makers, Kung Fat Kwok, has recently set up an online service ( http://yp.com.hk/kungfatkwok/) and says business is booming.

"The website attracts younger customers and people from overseas,'' shop owner Kelly Woo told the China Daily newspaper.

Environmental concerns have in recent years seen a drop in the number of ming zhi pu makers but those sticking to the trade say they are working hard to keep the tradition alive.

"Offering paper effigies is the best tradition in the Chinese culture,'' said Cheng Ming-leung, head of the Chinese Paper Merchants Association.

As well as funerals, the practice is also observed during China's Ghost Festival (held in August) and the Qing Ming - or tomb sweeping - festival held in April.

The Hong Kong government has meanwhile tried to offer an alternative by establishing a website - http://memorial.gov.hk - that allows people to set up a memorial page for loved ones.

But for many, the old ways will continue to be the best ways - even if they are adapted for modern tastes.

"I need not only to please the customer but also the person who is receiving the gift in the afterlife,'' said paper maker Au Yeung Ping-chi, who says the strangest request he ever got was for a bowl of spicy noodles, which he put together for HK$400 (€37).

MS

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