GUANGZHOU, April 3 (Xinhua) -- Liang Zhicong collects letters from the public and places them in different boxes before sending them away to an unexpected place: cemeteries.
Liang, 30, is a security guard in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province. Meanwhile, he is also a registered member of Volunteer Guangzhou, a local volunteer association.
"I have worked for the association for more than 10 years in my spare time, and I have done all kinds of voluntary jobs," he said.
But this time around, the organization gave him a brand-new task: to register and send mourning letters from the public to their ancestors.
"It's a quite serious job, seriously," he said.
The program is part of the efforts by the Guangzhou Bureau of Civil Affairs to mark the incoming Tomb-sweeping Day, also known as the Qingming Festival, amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Qingming is one of the most important traditional festivals for the Chinese when people go to cemeteries to make offerings to their ancestors and ensure the graves are properly tended to. It falls on Saturday this year.
Around 9.78 million Chinese visited cemeteries to honor their deceased relatives during the three-day holiday for Tomb-sweeping Day last year, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
This year, Guangzhou halted such activities, with services suspended in more than 140 sites. In the Yinhe Cemetery, for example, no visitors have been seen there recently. Last year, the downtown cemetery received more than 100,000 residents.
To avoid group gathering, the bureau came up with the idea of "mourning via letters." It encouraged the public to write down their thoughts and prayers for their ancestors in letters, and send the letters to the city's administration of funerals and interment. The administration would then help distribute the letters to the gravestones or cinerary caskets in the cemeteries.
"In the past, people just went to the cemeteries themselves, but this year, the way of mourning has become a little special because of the epidemic," Liang said. "Even if they cannot visit the cemeteries this year, their wishes will arrive there in letters."
The security guard said he and his peers have handled many letters in just three days. As the Tomb-sweeping Day approaches, more letters are coming.
"I started working at 9 a.m. today," he said during an interview Thursday. "By the afternoon, I will have already handled 54 letters."
Liang's job is to write down the addresses for records, and puts the letters in different boxes to be delivered to different cemeteries. As the days get damp in Guangzhou, Liang also gives the letters plastic coats so that they can be better preserved.
"The plastic-coated letters also appear to be more solemn and serious," he said. "I hope what we do can help."
"We try to bring people's thoughts and prayers to their ancestors despite the virus outbreak," said Chen Bing, with Guangzhou's administration of funerals and interment. "It is a Chinese tradition to send thoughts to the ancestors during Qingming."
"The ways of mourning may have changed this year, but our feelings for our ancestors remain the same," Chen said.