A senior Chinese official has called for greater efforts to promote cremation instead of burial in a bid to save land in the world most populous country.
Dou Yupei, vice-minister of Civil Affairs, said China's funeral reforms had achieved a lot over the past several decades, but are now running into resistance as new graves proliferate in some areas.
"Bodies are sometimes cremated and then the ashes are put into coffins for burial, wasting land," he told a meeting of the China Funeral Association in Shanghai.
"This shows the funeral reform is not complete," he said.
Some large Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai handle 100,000 bodies each year. Nationwide, nearly 8 million bodies need to be processed, according to the official.
"Where could we get the land to bury all those people? We must fully implement a cremation policy," he said.
China has a longstanding custom of burying the dead. But iconoclastic Chairman Mao Zedong took a different view. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Mao's initiative to encourage cremation.
Beloved Chinese leaders such as Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping have set fine examples for modern funerals, requesting that their ashes be scattered in the mountains or on the high sea.
In 1977, the government started to encourage cremation rather than burial, and simple funerals instead of extravagant and superstitious ceremonies.
About 67.27 million human remains were cremated from 1978 to 2005 in China, saving tens of thousands of hectares of land and trees and billions of yuan, according to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
In 2005 alone 4.5 million corpses were cremated, representing 53 percent of those who died last year.
"This helped China save more than 2 million cubic meters of wood, 2,000 hectares of farmland and millions of yuan," said Li Xueju, minister of Civil Affairs.
(Xinhua News Agency December 19, 2006)