In China, paying others to sweep ancestors' tombs

Workers hired by Chen Yi Fan sweep somebody's tomb.

Bob Moon: There were no numbers from the markets in China today.
They were closed for the annual tomb sweeping festival. It's a time set aside for relatives to go and clean off graves of their ancestors and loved ones.

Nice thought -- but many people are too busy to bother. Which is another way of saying: There's a business opportunity.

Marketplace's China correspondent Rob Schmitz has our story.


Rob Schmitz: In today's China, you can pay someone to do nearly anything for you. Sweeping grandma's tomb is no exception. That's what Chen Yi Fan does.

Chen Yi Fan: Clients call me with the address of the cemetery, and I'll go there with cleaning supplies, some flowers, and I'll prepare whatever offerings they want. Then I'll record the whole thing and send them the video.

Chen and his staff of 10 tomb sweepers have fielded hundreds of calls in the past few days for his services. He charges up to $100 per client.

Chen Yi Fan: Tomb sweeping seems a bit meaningless to young professionals. They're just too busy to do this. They'd rather visit their ancestors' graves on their own schedules.

At a cemetery in Shanghai, a woman cries at the tomb of her husband while her shaking hands prop up traditional offerings of fruit and candles for him. Nearby, Zhang Wei says the idea of people hiring others to do this disgusts him.

Zhang Wei: That's terrible. It's an empty gesture. It would be OK if you were abroad. You could ask your relatives to visit the grave and pay respects for you. But paying a stranger to do this is awful.

And with that, someone sets off fireworks to scare any bad spirits away from their ancestors; a pyrotechnic rebuke to those working at the office buildings nearby, too busy to pay their ancestors a simple visit.

In Shanghai, I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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