We burn paper houses, maids, cars and yes, even entire banks to the dead. But in the past, the Chinese burnt the real things for deceased royalty.
Historical documents show that in the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046BC), sacrifices for the dead required the burning of actual things. Commoners were buried with animals such as pigs and dogs. Concubines, bodyguards, servants – all are killed so that they may follow their lord to the next world.
Living people were sacrificed to the gods, either through burning or decapitation.
This practice continued into the Zhou Dynastic (1046-256BC). Duke Mu of Qin was reported to have 177 people buried alive with him.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), wives and concubines are made to sacrifices themselves to be buried with their imperial husbands.
(Need to burn a paper power generator also, so they can charge all this stuff)
It was only in 1673 that the Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty that ordered a ban to this grotesque practice.
(Also the Emperor with very bad eyesight. Ok sorry, bad joke)
Perhaps it was also out of practicality that the Chinese switched to paper mâché maids, servants, money and houses. It was easier and faster to burn a paper effigy than it is to get someone to commit suicide.
So this Qing Ming, as you burn material things for download to the netherworlds, give a thought to where this tradition began.
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