A funeral worth all the paper it was made of China reawakes to new money for old customs

Village Life PROTECTING THE TOMBS, CHINA

INSIDE THE bubble of wealth that fills central Peking, Starbucks coffee houses and McDonald's restaurants litter the street corners. On the skyscraper-lined avenues, pricey mountain bikes compete for space with increasingly upmarket sedans.

But whatever development economists say about the trickle-down effect, there's been precious little trickling of wealth into the countryside surrounding China's capital.

In the village of Protecting the Tombs, only half an hour by car from the nearest Starbucks, peasant farmers still wear cloth shoes and faded Mao-style cotton jackets. Their courtyard homes are sparsely furnished, and a telephone - let alone the Internet connections that are the talk of the city - remains a new-fangled concept.

So if you want to catch up on what's going down, the only place to head for is the village store. The gloomy interior with its scattering of vegetables too bruised for city markets may not look too promising, but the rounded and greying shopkeeper, Mrs Wang, is the font of all local gossip.

When I ventured in, well- prepared for a rant on the desperately low market prices for agricultural produce this year, no one paid me the slightest attention - and this in a village where my blonde hair normally brings star billing in seconds.

With the lowered voices emanating from the huddle of elderly women on the steps of the store, it was clear that far bigger things were afoot. I eventually sloped off empty-handed for a walk through the decaying Ming dynasty concubine tombs that give the village its name.

Shortly before dusk the blowing of reedy pipes and the slow beat of drums had me running back, and into an ornate funeral procession that had started its painfully slow progress at the house in the centre of the village.

Now this was no ordinary village funeral procession - at the front was a full-sized paper horse complete with bridle, leading an equally enormous paper carriage.

Dozens of mourners dressed in white followed, taking a faltering step each time the man holding up the horse pushed it into a slow-motion canter to the left. I'd only ever seen such processions on films depicting China before the Communist Revolution in 1949, and judging by the gawping faces of villagers jostling for a view, I was not alone.

Before Mao Tse-tung came to power, relatives of the rich and important often had paper representations of their prized possessions (including the odd Model T Ford) and employed crowds of professional funeral-goers to beat their breasts at lengthy ceremonies.

But how did an 82-year-old farmer from the village of Protecting the Tombs with a few fruit trees to his name get such a grand farewell?

As darkness fell, and the plaintive procession made slow progress over the concrete floodway towards Mrs Wang's shop, she filled me in on the details that had had half the village gossiping all morning.

The horse, carriage, drummers and mourners came as a job lot from a township north of the mountains, and cost a shocking 1,200 yuan. As that is about half the annual income of a villager, the thrifty elder generation were up in arms at the extravagance, and desperate to know who had paid.

In the end, one of the dead man's grandchildren waiting tables in Peking appeared to have footed the bill. So, even though there are no obvious trappings of wealth in the village of Protecting the Tombs, that old trickle- down effect has reached at least one household.

Maybe we'll be seeing more of the paper horse and carriage in the future.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Supply Teachers Required

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of Pay, Excellent CPD : Randstad Educati...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor