My children and I once spent a fascinating hour watching a Chinese chap in Malacca (Malaysia) constructing a fridge out of balsa wood and paper whilst his colleague put the finishing touches on a paper model of a car. These were to be sold at one of the many shops that catered for people buying ‘funerary goods’.
These items are usually sold as offerings to be burnt for the dead so they can use them in the afterlife. In a way this is not dissimilar to what the ancient Egyptians did, being buried with items they could use in the hereafter; or what Chinese Emperors did by commissioning whole armies of Terracotta Warriors for their tombs.
In these ‘modern’ times the practice still continues in China. Whilst you are less likely to see it in the north and west of the country in the southern seaboard provinces like Guangdong and Fujian and of course in Hong Kong.
In those parts of China ‘funerary goods’ are big business, and these days you can buy a whole lot more sophisticated paper items than those we saw being made in Malacca.
Qing Ming Festival 清明节 (aka Tomb Sweeping Festival) in early Spring is when buying and burning these goods comes to a head. For millennia it has been the custom to spend one of the festival days at the ancestral/parental tombs, clean them and adorn them and leave offerings – fruit, foods etc and to burn Hell Money and paper goods.
Whole paper villas with modern kitchens and swimming pools are available to buy. Paper cars with uniformed chauffeurs, Apple laptops, iPhones, Louis Vuitton bags,
Gucci bags and shoes have proved immensely popular. Of course your dead ancestors might need more homely, practical items – Macdonald’s burgers and fries, new dentures and mouthwash, spectacles, a new watch…all available as paper replicas. It is amazing what you can buy.
But this year Qing Ming took on a whole new twist when it turned out that in some of the big rich cities, sweeping the tombs of dead pets was becoming prevalent !!! Rover the dog and Fluffy the cat were trumping the ancestors – wow, that’s something new.
Hot on the heels of that revelation is the news that last week, Italian fashion company Gucci sent a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter to the Hong Kong shops selling Chinese funerary goods. Gucci claims that the paper replicas are ‘fake’ goods which are therefore illegal. For heaven’s sake – of course they are fake, they are made of PAPER! Nobody thinks they are the real thing, and in any case people buy them to burn them…they are not exactly a drag on the real goods that Gucci produces and sells at high-end glitzy shops in China. Gucci is not losing out – except for the fact they are not making the paper goods themselves – maybe they should get into the ‘funerary goods’ business asap.
Because if they can’t wear Gucci – the Dead will wear Prada!