Deceased Chinese can only rest in peace for 20 years; cemetery policy questioned before Tomb-sweeping Day
April 4, 2011Jing GaoOne Commentancestor worship, basic living allowances, cemetery, filial piety, funeral, funeral and interment, governance, housing prices, policy, property, speculation, Taobao, the dead, tomb-sweeping day
April 5 is Chinese traditional Tomb-sweeping Day, or Qingming Festival (literally Clear and Bright Festival), when Chinese are supposed to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and tend to the graves of the family members.
However, this year, some Chinese have been informed by cemeteries that the right of use of tombs where their families were buried is due to expire, and if they want to keep the deceased in place, they must pay management fees.
According to NetEase News Forum, a cemetery in Chengdu, capital city of southwestern Sichuan province, published a notice on local newspaper in September, 2010, which was addressed to family members who are “in arrears.” The notice says that if no payment in continuation of the contract is made in time, the graves that are defaulting will be considered derelict or not taken. A list of names of 127 departed was even made public at the end of the notice.
China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs responded to the news by saying, according to the relevant regulations, the use cycle of a grave is 20 years; if and how future expenses are incurred depends on what the specific original agreement says.
Li Bo, depute director of Department of Social Affairs at Ministry of Civil Affairs, was quote by Xinhua as saying, “We have always been stressing that (what revolves around) graveyards is only leases, not property. One only has the right to use and no right to own it. 20 years is a time limit. 20 years later when the lease expires, fees are incurred in accordance with the agreement.”
Many cemeteries said that if no management fee is paid, they will put together those ash urns so that families of the departed can find them in the future. That is to say, they will dig up the ashes, put it aside, and reuse the graves.
So basically, the policy has not only made people benchmark their love for the family against money, but defied Chinese traditional culture that lays great emphasis on ancestor worship and filial piety. Besides, as the saying goes, “Not rest in peace until laid to rest. (入土为安)” To Chinese, if one were not buried under the ground after death, he would become a solitary and wild ghost who can never be reincarnate and have a second life, which sounds extremely pathetic.
On the other hand, the funeral and interment services in China has been robbing Chinese to the extent that some Chinese say half-jokingly they cannot afford to die. (Watch a parody music video in which the Chinese rapper complains he cannot afford death, among others.)
In the city of Qingdao, an outfit for the dead, which includes underwear, shirt, jacket and pants, costs 3,360 yuan ($500). An urn made of redwood is priced at 5,000 yuan ($760), whereas an ebony-made one costs 12,000 ($1,820). In Xi’an, if the family has brought an urn from outside the funeral home, they would still have to pay an “ash-loading fee,” similar to corkage exacted at a restaurant for every bottle of drink bought elsewhere. Even though haggling over prices is a fun and social experience in China, very few people say no to charges thrust upon them when it comes to expenses for the beloved ones. (See photos of a million-dollar funeral in China)
Grave prices, like property prices, are soaring in Chinese cities, and has been a new target of speculators. In Fuzhou, capital city of southern Fujian province, prices have more than doubled in the past two years, according to Fuzhou News Net. A 1.3 square-meter grave (14 square feet) is sold at least for 32,000 yuan ($4850). If the area is bigger and the fengshui is nicer, it can be as expensive as 170,000 yuan ($25,800). Remember, this is just the price for a 20-year lease.
Nevertheless, demand is on the rise. Fearing that they cannot find a place to live in their afterlife, many Chinese have begun to buy graves for themselves when they are still living. Speculators also buy grave plots in large quantities, jack up the prices and sell them to make huge profits. According to Southern Daily, Ms. He (last name) spent 16,000 yuan on 10 graves plots in 2009. Now they are worth 450,000 yuan. Some of the speculators even sell grave plots on Taobao.com, China’s largest online shopping site.
Selected comments on Sina Microblog
熊培云：Cannot afford to live; cannot afford to die. Real estate says no to the living 70 years later; grave says no to the dead 20 years later. This is a country of makeshifts, a country that doesn’t know what civilization is. Besides “uneasy,” nothing can summarize the feelings of people in this era.
赵静Ada In China’s history of thousands of years, there seemed to be no government that said publicly that digging up people’s ancestral tombs is legal. But ours has done it! Our heavenly kingdom!
林丹枫 Exactly. An era when you can never rest assured.
奉己 The grave in the Square has exceeded 20 years’ limit for long. (Jing: referring to Chairman Mao Zedong’s body embalmed and enshrined in a memorial hall located in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square)
唧唧歪歪的赞美诗 A country where there is no sense of security or belonging. The land policy has become not only a bottleneck in economic reform, but shackles on political reform as well.
电子浆料工程师 No such thing as safety. Worry while living, fear while dying.
岁月如戈 This country extends the same treatment to both the living and the dead: treating them as objects for exploitation.
司寇玄 Cannot understand why such a rich country is always thinking about vying with the people for profits.
一个孤僻的人 Not easy to live. Even harder after death.
中国经贸出版社总编辑: Urging the departed to make payments. How classic!
成都花茶: As long as they can get cash, they can do anything.
elegantbabe Time is up. Get up and find a new pit to sleep in.
冷尘嚣 Have payment due even after death. Really can’t rest in peace…