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Tombs grabbing land
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As a home in the afterworld, a tomb is what most Chinese people want. However, the increasing number of tombs now poses a threat to land space.

It has become of real concern how to reduce the land area taken up by cemeteries, or curb the surprising speed at which the dead are competing with the living for limited land resources.

The traditional belief that the dead will not lead a peaceful life in the afterworld until their corpses or ashes are buried in a tomb has prompted many, who are much better off today than before, to build tombs for their parents or relatives. Some even do this for their parents who are still alive, believing in the traditional saying that a tomb readied will help their parents live longer.

Suzhou, a city often referred to as a paradise because of its beautiful landscape that features rivers and hills in east China's Jiangsu province, is plagued by an increasing number of cemeteries. Many neighboring cities such as Shanghai consider Suzhou as an ideal burial site for their relatives. The more than 30 cemeteries that have been registered with the local department of civil affairs have already occupied more than 130 hectares of land in the past decade.

A survey conducted by the local government reveals that 90 percent of those questioned, still hold fast to tombs despite the government building towers and crches to accommodate the caskets and ashes of the dead.

As the result, tomb prices at some cemeteries have become even more expensive than urban houses. What is even more worrying is the fact that some wealthy people squander huge sums of money on luxurious mausoleums. The most luxurious one occupies nearly 400 sq m in Suzhou.

The same problem exists in many other localities, which poses a threat to dwindling farmlands. Behind the craze are the shinangans of illegal business people and corrupt officials seeking profits by occupying land to build cemeteries and luxurious tombs.

In the decades to come with the expansion of our population, which is already 1.3 billion, farmlands will be our most precious resource if we do not want our people to starve. In the past three decades, we have already lost a considerable amount of farmland to housing projects, industrial development zones and urban expansion. We cannot afford to lose any more to cemeteries.

Responsible governments at all levels must let those who are obsessed with spending huge sums on building luxurious tombs understand that the dead, if they did have souls, would be restless if they knew they were making life harder for the living by resting in luxurious tombs.

(China Daily, March 31, 2008)

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