People pay tribute to the dead in a cemetery in Yichang, Hubei province, on March 23, 2008.(Photo: China Daily)
While many know it is not cheap to live in cities, urbanites are finding it increasingly expensive to die in one as well.
Just ask newspaper editor Liao Yi.
The Beijing resident recently paid about 70,000 yuan ($9,980) to have his deceased father buried in the suburban Fangshan district.
The money, more than what Liao earned in a year, was spent in two parts - about 10,000 yuan went to the funeral home, while the rest was for the cemetery where a space of about 2 sq m was bought and a simple grave dug.
"I feel sorry that my father's posthumous home is so small and that he has to be left in such a crowded area, but I have done my best," he said.
Liao is not alone in his predicament. The issue of high funeral expenses has been revived in the run-up to the Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day, which falls this Friday.
The Chinese traditionally use this time to remember the dead and visit the tombs of their ancestors and family members.
When queried yesterday, five of Beijing's major cemeteries, such as the Spring Cemetery and the Tianci Cemetery, offered a price of between 10,000 yuan and 30,000 yuan per square meter for a standard tomb - this compared with an average of 20,000 yuan per square meter for an apartment in downtown Beijing.
The funeral costs are not cheap either. A salesgirl surnamed Zhao at the Shenzhen Funeral Home in Guangdong Province told China Daily that a minimum of 4,000 yuan is needed for completing basic funereal procedures, from disinfection and cleaning, to cremation.
The price did not include the cost of a cinerary casket or farewell ceremony.
A white marble casket sells at about 3,000 yuan, said an employee at the Babaoshan Funeral Home in western Beijing.
The cost of making such a casket plus its transportation fee from Sichuan province to the capital is 900 yuan, and it is sold to the funeral home for 1,200 yuan, a casket producer who has supplied caskets to Beijing's funeral homes for 17 years, surnamed Zhang, told the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend last year.
Lured by the high profits, private businesses are joining the funeral sector - but they need licenses for entering the market, said Zhang Hongchang, vice-president of the China Funeral Association. His association is an affiliation of the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA).
More than 80 percent of the funeral homes in the country are State-owned, as well as about half of the cemeteries, he said.
More than 4 million human bodies were cremated in China in 2006, a report released by the MCA in January last year stated.
In 2004, the country's funeral industry reported revenue of 7.5 billion yuan and a profit of 1.098 billion yuan, figures from the National Bureau of Statistics showed.
(China Daily April 2,2008)