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Dilemma of Guangzhou funeral parlors
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By October 25, 2007, the figure of unidentified corpses held in Guangzhou funeral parlors amounted to 1,855, according to the Guangzhou Funeral and Interment Service Center. Furthermore, in the city's crematorium, some 6,000 funeral urns still remain unclaimed. The Guangzhou Daily reported from east China's Guangdong Province.

The preservation and treatment of numerous unidentified bodies and unclaimed funeral urns consumes plenty of manpower and material resources annually. To regulate the management of the funeral and interment industry, authorities in Guangzhou have recently issued the Administrative Methods on Cremains Management (hereinafter referred to as the Administrative Methods). This document states that the body and bone ash kept in funeral parlors and crematoriums shall be cremated or buried if no one comes to claim them within a prescribed period of time. The Administrative Methods ruling goes into effect as of December 1, 2007. The proper authorities are now appealing to the public to claim the bodies of their dead friends or relatives as early as possible.

Every year, funeral parlors in Guangzhou receive 1,600 or more unidentified bodies. Of them, some were not permanent residents in Guangzhou; some died in accidents like drowning, traffic accidents or murder; and some were even foreigners. All of these unfortunates had no identity documents on them when they died.

Previously, there were no rules in Guangzhou regulating management of such bodies and bone ashes. When the bodies of unidentified foreigners were sent to funeral parlors, morticians sought help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Despite all the efforts they made, currently there are still bodies of foreigners waiting to be identified.

With regard to bone ashes, according to the statistics from 2001 to 2005, more than 8,000 unidentified funeral urns have been sent to the Guangzhou Municipal Crematorium and have been stored there ever since.

Even under freezing conditions, a body would decompose after 15 days. To preserve all these bodies and funeral urns, the Guangzhou funeral and interment department spends over eight million yuan every year.

In Guangzhou funeral parlors, although various aseptic treatments have been given to the unidentified bodies, the bodies will not always be easy to identify. In particular, when people perish in car accidents, fires or other disasters, funeral parlors must apply additional treatments to these bodies in an attempt to restore a normal appearance to the corpse.

In the crematorium, there are two warehouses earmarked specially for the unclaimed funeral urns. Some of them have been sitting since 2003; some looked rather luxurious and expensive.

Currently, the Guangzhou Municipal Crematorium has no more room for unclaimed funeral urns. Even though the crematorium buried some of the long unclaimed in 2002, the crematorium's vacant rooms were soon fully occupied again.

Moreover, since the Chinese people hold a strong tradition of showing respect for the dead, funeral and interment department staff members are quite reluctant to cremate a body or bury a funeral urn when the identity of the decreased is unknown. Frequently they exert great efforts to keep these bodies and funeral urns for as long as possible.

Authorities plan to post information about the first group of unidentified bodies and unclaimed funeral urns on the city's funeral parlor website. The same notice will also be put up on the gate of the Guangzhou Funeral and Interment Service Center (also known as Yinheyuan to the locals).

Concerning the unidentified bodies of foreigners, authorities revealed that the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other related departments are cooperating together to find an appropriate way to solve the problem.

According to the Administrative Methods, the funeral parlor (or crematorium) shall keep bone ash at no charge for 30 days after the body is cremated. A preservation fee will be charged thereafter. When the bone ash is not claimed within six months after cremation, the funeral parlor (or crematorium) shall issue a public notice seeking relatives of the deceased. If no one comes to claim the bone ash within 30 days after the posting, the funeral parlor (or crematorium) shall bury the remains after undertaking due registration procedures.

(China.org.cn by Chen Xia, October 30, 2007)

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