The Qingming Festival just passed by a week or two ago–the day when Chinese families all over the world go to pay their respects at the graves of their ancestors. Graves or memorial halls are swept and freshened with flowers, fruit is presented, paper goods are burned.
Much was written in both the Chinese and English-language media about the burgeoning popularity of online memorials.
One of the most popular websites, Netor, starts by asking users to decorate their memorial hall with a variety of wallpapers (there are about a dozen choices, including flying seagull over an ocean, soft-focus candles laid on a white table cloth, and swanky living
room). Once they’ve chosen the virtual environment for the memorial hall, they can enact a number of virtual ceremonies: present flowers, order a song, light a candle, burn incense (1, 3, 9, or a whole bunch of sticks), or present liquor (beer, maotai, red or white wine, rice wine, tea, cocktails). Recent ceremonies are recorded in the hall by name and date–things like “3/26 lit incense,” “4/2 lit candle”. A month of ceremonies costs 15 yuan [<US S2.00]. You can order by short text message over your cellphone.
Interestingly, there are also virtual mass halls such as one that memorializes the 191 victims of a Sichuan industrial accident. These, as well as the memorial halls for celebrities, get visited by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people.