The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 15, April 10, 2005, Article 25


On April 5th, Reuters published an article headlined,
"China's Tomb-Sweeping Day Joins Internet Age"

"Chinese burned virtual candles and incense, sent digital
flowers and set fire to paper cell phones on Tuesday as
modern technology changes the way the ancient Qing Ming
Tomb-Sweeping Day is celebrated.

Tomb-Sweeping Day is a traditional holiday when people
honor their ancestors and flock to cemeteries, but many
young Chinese consider conventional ceremonies like setting
off firecrackers, burning real incense and paper and making
offerings of food and drink as passe, Xinhua news agency said.

"Internet mourning, such as on the 'online cemetery', where
virtual candles or joss-sticks are lit and virtual flowers are sent,
is in fashion, saving millions of people of Chinese origin the
trouble of traveling long distances in order to sweep tombs
for their ancestors," it said."

To read the full article, see: Full Story

Among the traditional items burned is what is known as
"Hell Money" There is a nice, illustrated web page on a
web site describing the "Adventures of a Big White Guy
living in Hong Kong"

"In China, the word Hell doesn't carry the same negative
connotation as western Hell. The popular story has it that
zealous Christian missionaries warned all non-Christian
Chinese they'd "go to Hell" upon death.

In a classic case of misinterpretation, the Chinese believed
Hell was the English term for the Afterlife. The word was
incorporated and printed on the traditional Chinese Afterlife
Monetary Offerings, otherwise known as Hell Bank Notes.
Some refer to the notes as Spirit Money.

I love the denominations. This first set shows the highest dollar
amount I've found yet: $8 billion."

"Hell Bank Notes come bundled in various numbers,
depending on the currency. The paper ranges from smooth
and thin to coarse and thick. The huge denomination notes
were printed on low-grade paper."

"It doesn't matter, as they're made to be burned. The Chinese
believe that when someone dies, his spirit goes to the afterlife,
where it lives on, doing much the same things it did in life.
Surviving relatives want to send gifts to make the afterlife as
comfortable as possible. Aside from intricate paper objects
such as houses, cars, clothing, watches, mobile phones,
appliances and even domestic helpers, Hell Bank Notes are
most popular. Burning sends them on their way."

To read the full article, see: Full Story

Another good discussion of the topic is found at this site:

"The Anthropology of Money in Southern California is an
exhibition of the uses of money and money-like objects in the
cultural, religious or ritual practices of various communities
of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. It was created from
original research conducted by the students in an undergraduate
class at the University of California at Irvine, on the anthropology
of money (Anthropology 125S) in the Fall of 2004."

"The use of spirit money (also known as hell money or heaven
money) in observing different rituals is deeply rooted in Asian
culture. Archaeological evidence of “fake/spirit money” can be
seen as far back as circa 1000 B.C. Imitations of money in the
form of stones and bones (along with cowrie shells) were
found in tombs. In the Spring and Autumn periods, archaeologists
have found evidence of imitation metal money. The imitation
metal money was thin and fragile, made of lead and bronze.
There were also imitations in clay of gold plaques. Initially,
archaeologists believed that imitations were for the poor;
however, that belief changed when they discovered imitation
money in the tombs of the wealthy."

"Spirit money itself has many different uses; however, it is used
generally as a symbol of transformation, increase in reproduction,
and payment of spiritual debts. The notes used as “money” are
transformed to spirit money when they are used as symbolic
offerings to ghosts, gods, and ancestors. The burning of spirit
money allows for it to be transferred to ghosts, gods, and
ancestors to be used as real currency in the other world."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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