April 5, 2007 / 12:20 PM / 11 years ago

Chinese "can't afford to die" as funeral costs soar

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese celebrated the annual tomb-sweeping festival on Thursday, but state media said soaring funeral costs were leading to people complaining they can no longer afford to die.

In Beijing and Shanghai, a proper send-off can cost between 10,000 and 20,000 yuan ($1,300-$2,600), Xinhua news agency said. Funerals for family members cost the average Beijing resident three months’ salary.

“Funeral costs have surged from hundreds of yuan in the 1980s to tens of thousands of yuan. I‘m afraid I cannot afford my own death,” the report quoted 89-year-old Li Chengxian as saying.

For decades after the 1949 Communist takeover, China forbade burials in order to conserve badly needed land and insisted instead on cremations. The rule was poorly enforced in its vast countryside, though, and now has effectively been abandoned.

Earlier this week China announced it was to outlaw the trade in tomb futures -- speculating on the business of selling graves -- after it bankrupted many investors, as the government steps up regulations on a lucrative but poorly regulated industry.

Xia Shuqin, a Nanjing massacre survivor, cries during a memorial ceremony in front of a wall which bears the names of victims of the massacre, at the Nanjing Massacre Museum in Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu province April 5, 2007.

Funeral providers rarely charge for services but make money by marking up the cost of products, sometimes as much as 20 times the original price, and mourning relatives are loath to bargain, Xinhua said.

In some areas the cost of a grave per square meter can be twice as much as an apartment.

People in traditional costumes pay their respects at the tomb of Huang Di, also known as the Yellow Emperor, who has been revered as the common ancestor of the Chinese nation, in Huangling county in Shaanxi Province, April 5, 2007. REUTERS/China Daily

An official at the Civil Affairs Ministry criticized the practice of some cemetery owners of setting up special graveyards that offer “oversized and luxurious graves”, Xinhua said in a separate report.

“It’s a severe violation of China’s funeral regulations and a waste of land resources,” it quoted the official as saying.

Some tomb owners also encroach on farmland by building groups of tombs for family members and ancestors who want to be reunited in the afterworld, the official said, condemning the practice as “outdated and superstitious”.

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