Huge reduction in number of tomb-sweepers

Hu Min
Reservations and alternative ways to pay respects during the Qingming Festival bear fruit as city bureau records an 88 percent decrease in visits to cemeteries.
Hu Min

Around 375,400 people visited the city's 54 cemeteries and columbaria during the three-day Qingming Festival holiday, an 88 percent decrease from the same period last year, Shanghai's civil affairs authorities said on Monday. An online reservation mechanism was in place for the first time amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival, on Saturday this year, is when Chinese people traditionally sweep family tombs and pay respects to their ancestors.

On Monday, the cemeteries and columbaria had 121,200 reservation slots for tomb-sweepers with 94,800 reserved. On the day, 88,000 turned up, bringing an extra 22,000 vehicles onto the streets, according to the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

Songhe Cemetery in Jiading District, Binhai Guyuan Cemetery in Fengxian District and Zhizunyuan Cemetery in Qingpu District had the largest number of visitors, it said.

Online reservations opened on March 26, with four two-hour time slots available at each location every day between March 28 and April 12.

Between March 28 and Monday, there were 1.02 million slots available with 824,300 booked and 793,600 used, bringing an extra 186,100 vehicles onto the streets, according to the bureau.

A total of 4,002 urns were interred during the period.

Some 1.15 million "cloud tomb-sweeping" visits have been made online so far, or 59 percent of the total with the rest on-site tomb-sweeping, the bureau said.

Cemetery staff sweep tombs for families if requested, by cleaning graves, bowing and laying flowers. Live broadcasts and photographs can be provided.

As of Monday, 36,200 such requests had been met, the bureau said.

"The city's measures to curb mass gatherings at tombs amid the coronavirus pandemic and promote new funeral and interment arrangements have hit the target," said Huang Yifei, director of the bureau’s funeral and Interment department.

“The authorities' call to visit tombs when the pandemic ends has been actively echoed by residents with a big decrease of visits recorded," he said.

"The number of reservations is lower than slots available and cemeteries have reported good order and a clean environment during the holiday," Huang said.

"New sweeping ways like online tomb-sweeping or requesting cemetery staff to help are gaining acceptance among residents as the number of 'cloud sweepings' has surpassed onsite ones," he said.

Cemeteries across the city received 6,755 requests for replacing items such as tinfoil with flowers during the holiday when tom-sweepers visit and were told not to burn tinfoil, and the majority of visitors brought flowers to tombs instead of tinfoil, according to the bureau.

Shanghai's cemeteries and columbaria received 2.19 million tomb-sweepers during last year's Qingming Festival day on April 5, according to the bureau. Authorities reported severe congestion on roads and expressways near burial locations.

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