Soaring cemetery prices: too expensive to die

By Guo Yiming
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 6, 2016
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A cemetery in Shanghai. [File photo] 

During this year's Tomb Sweeping Day, which fell on April 4, traffic on the way to major cemeteries near large cities like Beijing and Shanghai was particularly jammed, as people drove into the countryside to mourn deceased loved ones with food offerings and fake paper money.

"Born in big cities and buried in neighboring small towns." This has become a realistic choice for city dwellers who find it too difficult to find a burial spot due to a shortage of land and soaring tomb prices.

Towns surrounding big cities, like those in Hebei Province, have witnessed growth in public cemeteries and surge in prices as those cities become popular destinations for people still opting to entomb the dead.

Cemeteries around big cities

Many cemeteries in cities in Hebei Province, which are only about 30 to 40 miles away from Beijing, have positioned themselves in the hopes of attracting customers from China's capital.

"Up to 80% of our customers are Beijingers who think it's worth the price to buy a tomb in our graveyard," said a salesperson, surnamed Chen, at a public cemetery in Sanhe City, 31 miles away from Beijing. Chen added that their best bargain for a double-cave grave cost 9,500 yuan (US$1468.7) per square meter last year and quickly sold out once it hit the market.

Since 2010, Beijing has introduced incentives for eco-burial entombment methods, including tree, flower, and grass burials, and even burial at sea. But many people still opt for traditional ground burials.

Traditional Chinese belief says that souls only rest in peace if their bodies are covered by soil. To demonstrate filial piety, many Chinese invest heavily in their parents' tombs.

The situation is the same in Shanghai's neighboring cities, like Suzhou and Jiashan, where the average cost of a standard double-cave tomb ranges from 30,000 yuan to 40,000 yuan (around US$ 4,638 to 6,184).

Relaxed purchasing conditions, lower prices, and larger tomb space may comprise the biggest pull of public cemeteries near big cities, said an expert.

Too expensive to die

According to the annual financial report by the Fushouyuan International Group, a listed company in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and owner of major cemeteries in places like Shanghai, Henan, Shandong, and Liaoning, the cost of a tomb plot averaged around 80,211 yuan (US$ 12,400) in 2015, even higher than that of a newly built house.

Beijing citizens spend an average of 70,000 yuan (US$ 10,822) on burial services, a report on funeral development of China (2014-2015) revealed..

The report also predicted that most of the existing tomb plots will be taken in ten years. Since most megacities have no plans to expand space for cemetery use, a land crisis is imminent if the country fails to roll out further measures to encourage land-saving burial services and eco-friendly burial culture.

This February, nine ministerial agencies published a set of guidelines for eco-burials, which include recycling grave plots and shared burials for family members.

"To decrease the cost of overpriced funeral services, the government should not only promote new methods of burial but also explore ways to make them accepted by the general public," said Li Hongbing, a spokesperson with Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau.

Introducing subsidies for people choosing eco-friendly burials, accompanied by enhanced social responsibility of burial businesses, may produce much better results, Li added.

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