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Heaven-sent: Fake Apple products offered to Chinese ancestors

Andy Wong / AP

A woman collects rubbish around the tombstone of her family grave at the Babaoshan cemetery during the Qingming Festival in Beijing on Thursday.

BEIJING -- During China’s annual Qingming Festival, also known as “Tomb Sweeping Day,” people repair and clean the graves of dead relatives as part of an ancient custom to ensure a peaceful afterlife.

Some cemeteries are attaching QR codes to gravestones to allow mourners to view a virtual obituary. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

They also leave offerings of food, fake money, liquor and now, in a sign of the times, cardboard representations of popular Apple products – despite scathing criticism of the technology giant recently by China’s state-run media for its "arrogance" for having just a one-year warranty for Chinese consumers.  

The onslaught on CCTV to the People's Daily newspaper grew to such a fever pitch that Apple CEO Tim Cook offered an apology Monday and announced that the company would change its policy.

But the hubbub hasn’t dampened interest in offering mock Apple products to relatives for them to enjoy in the afterlife. 

Lots of gifts
Under Mao, the practice of leaving offerings to the dead was suppressed, but it was quickly reinstated once he was no longer in power. In 2008, Tomb Sweeping Festival was made a national holiday, and last year 520 million Chinese visited cemeteries – almost all bearing some kind of gift.

Traditional gifts include fake money and paper bags of clothing. But in recent years, as China has become more upscale, so has the giving – at least symbolically.

People now give paper representations of TV sets, washing machines, houses, luxury cars – and even mistresses. With the popularity of Apple products in China, they have gone to the top of the gift list.

Li Le / NBC News

Fake Apple products for sale in Beijing as offerings to ancestors for China's Tomb Sweeping Festival.

Jia Bo, 27, designs various cardboard imitations of high-end products and sells them online. He has everything that a Chinese person would dream to have in this life or the next: Lamborghinis, ocean view mansions, professional cameras and pets for companionship.

“Compared to luxury ‘cars,’” which can cost from $10-$150, imitation Apple products “are much more affordable,” said Jia.

This season’s hot seller is an entire set of “Apple” products. For only $7 you can send a Mac computer, iPhone and iPad to your relatives in heaven. For an extra 50 cents, you can upgrade to an iPhone 5.

Jia thinks these new gifts show changes in Chinese attitudes. “In the past, people only focused on basic needs. But now, particular young people, care more about the quality of life.”

“That’s why Pomeranian dogs are also very popular,” said Jia, though he noted that he believed the breed was originally Japanese.

New materialism
Bao Wenying, a customer at Jia’s online store, was pleased with her purchase, writing on the website: “They look very real. I think my grandparents will be thrilled after they receive these Apple products. Did I buy too much? I guess old [Steve] Jobs will take care of them.”

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Food offerings are seen at the tomb of a deceased person during Tomb Sweeping Day, at Songhe graveyard, on the outskirts of Shanghai on Thursday.

Wang Weibin, a resident from Jinhua, Zhejiang province, chose a “Mercedes-Benz” for his uncle. It was a chance to give him a new experience. “When he was alive, everyone was riding bicycles,” said Wang.

Not everyone likes the trend. Some grumble that these “luxury” goods merely reflect materialism in Chinese society.

“These are just commodities,” said Bao Xingdan, a 43-year-old housewife from Zhejiang. She prefers the traditional offering of burning fake money.

She pointed to the spiritualism of it. “This kind of paper can be used as money – only if people are chanting scriptures as they fold the paper into the shape of money.”

Bao added that for each piece of paper, people usually have to repeat a scripture at least three times.

Others think all these practices are just superstitions and that the best way to respect elders is to treat them well when they are alive.


Residents burn incense and paper money to pay their respects to the dead as it rains on a smoke filled hillside cemetery in Jinjiang in southeast China's Fujian province on Thursday. Tomb-Sweeping Day is an annual festival where Chinese people honor the dead.

Meanwhile, in Beijing there’s been a crackdown on the imitation Apple products—ironically the same week that state newspapers were criticizing the company.

A spokesman at the Beijing City Police Station, who only gave his surname, Zhang, told NBC News that violators were engaged in “patent infringement.”

However NBC found that numerous stores were openly selling products with slightly altered logos and product names.

It seems that China’s desire to give Apple products to its ancestors is undeterred by the government’s media or police. On earth Beijing is causing Tim Cook headaches, but Steve Jobs surely has a lot of Chinese friends in heaven.

NBC’s Yanzhou Liu and Mingchao Zhang have contributed to the story.