Leaving worldly possessions and material wealth behind upon death may be hard to fathom, but in China, it turns out one does not have to. According to a Chinese media report, a growing number of funeral parlors across the country are offering “luxury goods” for the dead—paper replicas of iPhones, Porsches, villas, and more—for the upcoming Qingming Festival this weekend. These paper replicas are part of a Chinese tradition where paper offerings—traditionally paper gold and silver “ingots”—are burned during the festival, also known as “Tomb Sweeping Day,” as families pays respect to their deceased relatives and ancestors. A Chinese regional newspaper also found out that just as luxury goods are more expensive in prime retail locations, luxury paper goods for the dead also follow this trend.
Qingming Festival, also known as “Tomb Sweeping Day,” usually falls around early April. During that time, the Chinese pay respects to their deceased relatives and ancestors by bringing food offerings, cleaning up tombstones, and burning paper offerings.
Chinese regional news outlet Hecheng Evening Paper (鹤城晚报) finds that in addition to the traditional gold and silver joss paper meant to represent “real” gold and silver, the dead-offerings industry has modernized and taken a swing towards luxury, giving families the options to choose from electronics, cars, handbags, and more. Also known as “ghost money,” paper offerings are intended to ensure that the dead have all they want or need in the afterlife. According to the article, one joss paper retailer said that electronic products were popular choices for offerings this year, with iPhone 4, iPad, and iPad Mini taking the lead. It also comments that the print quality of these paper offerings is very good, despite the fact that they’re weak, flimsy cardboard constructions. These replicas came with, as with the real product, chargers, different color options, and claims of “wireless capabilities,” “video streaming,” and “quality assurance,” on the product container.
Another popular item is paper luxury cars, which come in both miniature and life-sized “models.” Not only do the deceased get to ride off to the afterlife in style, they also have the luxury of a “pre-packaged” chauffeur that comes printed on the “car.” A joss paper owner proudly showed off his line of paper Porsches and Lamborghinis, explaining that people usually buy a sports car and a villa as a set. “The villas also come with their own security, maids, chefs, and pets,” says the store owner.
The article also says that while a paper iPhone package costs four yuan (65 cents), a paper Porsche costs eight yuan ($1.30), and a paper villa costs 30 yuan ($4.80) from a shop in “joss paper alley,” the closer one gets to a funeral parlor, the more expensive these offerings get. Since funeral parlors manage arrangements, which includes burning suitable offerings as part of the rites, they can be considered a convenient prime retail one-stop shop for those in need of their service, hence the premium. The Hecheng paper states that a paper iPhone package at a funeral parlor costs five yuan (80 cents). When inquiring about the price of villas, the parlor manager said, “For this villa, I’ll give it to you for 40 yuan ($6.40) though its usual selling price is 70 yuan ($11.30). Also, this villa has two stories, with all amenities included; there are even pretty ladies printed at the door!”
While perhaps not the multi-billion dollar industry that the real luxury industry is, it is interesting to know that even the dead get access to the luxury products they may have enjoyed or wanted to while alive, with retail price differences included.