In China, the housing markets are being outpaced by the cost of grave plots. On an average, about 80,000 yuan ($12,000) are shelled out by Beijing residents for funeral expenses, according to a funeral development report published in 2015 jointly by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Social Sciences Academic Press.
The average annual salary of an employee in Beijing in the same year was marked at 52,902 yuan ($7,956), according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. And it would take nearly one and a half years for the average worker to save enough for a burial even if the worker somehow managed to save all of the salaries.
In China, the number of people passing away every year is the largest in the world – given that it is also the most populous country in the world. The yearly death rate in China is about 10 million considering that the present mortality rate there is 7.1 for every 1,000 people. And the funeral market in the country is a segment that entrepreneurs have capitalized on because the segment was worth about $15.4 billion in 2013, and the market is booming. Many interesting offers are being given by companies in this business such as converting the ashes of the loved ones into diamonds or even shooting heh ashes into outer space or offering plots in cemeteries in Beijing at low costs compared to the prevalent rates there in new burial grounds that have propped up.
There have been mixed results as central and local governments have tried to regulate the market bubble. There was a spate of last minute suicides after the local government in eastern China’s Anhui province announced a ban on grave burials in June 2014. There are recorded incidents of suicides of at least seven elderly people who did so to be allowed to be buried before the June 1 deadline.
Now, with the intention to address the problem of shortage of burial space, promotion of “eco-friendly funerals” is being done by governments across the country. For those family members wiling to bury the dead in the sea, subsidies and free boat rides are being offered by many coastal cities. On the other hand, tree and flower burials – allowing for vegetation to be planted atop a person’s remains is being pushed by some inland provinces such as Jiangxi and Shaanxi. While the Ministry of Civil Affairs started a drive to achieve a 100% rate of cremation by 2020 in 2014, families were urged to be buried together instead of the traditional norm of one person one plot by nine ministries in February last year.
But the fact that Chinese ancestor worship is closely linked to burial is one issue that complicates Beijing’s efforts. An important part of the Confucian social practices is the existing or established relationship of the alive with the dead. According to this practice, an offspring is obliged to maintain the grave of their ancestors because of the belief that the familial piousness is carried on into the afterlife. And many such traditions in China continue to be deeply embedded in the society – specifically in the rural areas, even though the country is getting modernized at a rapid pace.
(Adapted from Forbes.com)