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6.11.2010 A Well-Wired Hong Kong Offers a Link to the Dead

By Bettina Wassener

HONG KONG — Hong Kong, one of the world’s most wired societies, is taking the Internet to a higher level.

Bereaved friends and relatives in this city of seven million people gained access on Thursday to a new way of honoring and commemorating their departed loved ones: a Web site that enables them to set up online profiles for the dead, memorial.gov.hk.

The creator of the site is not an Internet-savvy, 20-something college graduate, but the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which oversees public cemeteries and crematoriums. It spent about $128,000 to set up the site.

Users have a choice among preset layouts and background music and can upload photos and videos to complement the profiles.

Other functions include options for allowing public access to a profile or restricting it to invited friends and relatives. The “owner” of the profile can also choose whether to receive reminders of the deceased’s birthday and date of death and can invite others to browse the page and post messages.

Hong Kong, with its Chinese culture, takes death very seriously. Elaborate ceremonies twice a year honor not just the recently deceased but also generations of ancestors before them.

The site, according to the Hong Kong department that conceived it, “is not meant to replace traditional practices of paying tribute to the deceased.” Instead, it will allow people to pay tribute to their loved ones “anytime and anywhere online, in a warm, personalized yet solemn manner.”

It also “enables people to link up with their relatives and friends overseas in paying tribute and expressing condolences to the deceased through a dedicated Web page,” the department said in a statement.

The Web site is free, but it is restricted to people buried or cremated in facilities operated by the government.

Not everyone is excited about the new venture. Wu Kwok-kin, the owner of a shop that sells funeral wreaths, favors more traditional mourning rituals.

“There’s no need to build a Web site,” he said. “The government should have put up money to build more public vaults for urns.”

Other critics say the site is not a sincere way to respect the dead. Some also say it is too much like a video game.

But the online memorial could win over some people. “Those who pass away get something on the Internet that belongs to them,” said Kit Fan as he waited for a bus near a big funeral home in Hong Kong. “But people still need to go to the funeral.”