Around this time of the year, in the early weeks of April, Chinese families celebrate qing ming jie – the Tomb Sweeping Festival – a time when they visit the graves of their relatives, clean the graves (hence the name), leave flowers, and generally show a little respect for the dead.
Part of the festival’s tradition is to burn little paper effigies of things the deceased might need in the afterlife. Money is the most popular item to burn – so popular that, in the words of one China Daily interviewee, “the ashes make the streets dirty and the air becomes suffocating”. The question, then – what currency do they use in heaven? And do they have a (ahem) floating peg? (Hell, I suspect, uses old-style Zimbabwean dollars.)
Even the deceased move with the times, though, and Reuters reports today that money isn’t enough for those greedy, greedy ancestors any more:
Apple’s iPad 2 shortage has spread to the afterlife as Chinese families in Malaysia rush to buy paper replicas of the popular new gadget to burn for their dead as part of a centuries-old rite.
…the thought process being that burning a paper iPad in the Real World will give your ancestor a real iPad in the afterlife. (Do the celestial messengers take the package straight to the recipients house, or do they – like UPS drivers having a bad day – dump it in a puddle just outside the Pearly Gates and claim it was delivered on time?)
And it’s not just iPads – Reuters reports that people also like to offer up replicas of “flashy cars and designer bags”. But can you economise by burning a fake fake Louis Vuitton bag, or will only a fake genuine Louis Vuitton bag be enough to escape the wrath of your presumably status-crazed ancestors? And what if your dear departed aunty really wants a Birkin bag instead of a Speedy, or your grandfather wants his Mercedes SLS gullwing in silver instead of fire-engine red? How do you know what to buy for picky dead people? THIS RAISES ALL SORTS OF EPISTEMOLOGICAL QUESTIONS.
(As a side note, I reckon there’s a serious business opportunity here for enterprising luxury brands that are big in China: “authentic” paper replicas of their products for tomb-sweeping season could be a nice little earner. Jean-Claude Biver, are you listening?)
A car offering ready to be burned, from CNNGo’s gallery. I can only assume you don’t need airbags (or aerodynamics… or wheels) in heaven.
CNNGo (who labeled Singapore the second coolest city in the world, so take their opinions with a grain of salt) has a couple of rather good galleries full of things you can buy-and-burn for your ancestors. You can choose from mobile phones (“is the iPhone available on the other side?” they ask – in heaven, yes; but downstairs they make you use a Blackberry and the roaming charges are hellish), baijiu liqueur (surely the drink of choice up there is Hendricks?), and even bricks of solid gold (presumably worthless up there if, per the book of Revelation and the worst nightmares of loony goldbugs, the streets are paved with the stuff).
You can even buy a Shanghai hukou (residence permit) for the dearly departed to use in the afterlife, so they can jump the wall from rural to urban after-life – even if they were barred from doing it while they were down here.
And – there’s a market in everything! – for only 50 CNY, you can marry Lady Gaga in the afterlife. (Whether Gaga would be amenable to the arrangement is another question – she, after all, wants your everything as long as it’s free.)