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Crackdown on Illegal Grave Trade
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The Ministry of Civil Affairs is expected to issue new rules to curb the rampant speculative trade in public cemetery land.

Ministry spokesman Cao Jie said civil affairs and the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council met last Monday to discuss how to revise the regulation, which was promulgated in 1997.

He did not elaborate or say how soon the revised version would come out.

The Chinese newspaper Legal Daily quoted an official with the ministry as saying the research work on revising the regulation, which started in 2002, had entered a "crucial" stage.

The official told the paper that the revised funeral affairs regulation would impose a maximum fine of 500,000 yuan (US$64,000) on illegal graveyard trade.

He pointed out many graveyard developers had taken undue advantage of the loopholes in the current regulation, which does not clearly prohibit speculative sales of coffin pits.

The revised rules, he said, stipulate that public cemeteries can only sell coffin pits to customers who produce death certificates. Otherwise they will face a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 yuan (US$12,800 to 64,000).

The provision is also applicable to those selling coffin pits larger than the standard.

A guideline issued by the ministry in 1998 prescribed that a single cinerary urn pit should not surpass one square meter and a single coffin pit should not surpass 4 square meters.

The new regulation sets up stricter disciplines for cremation affairs. For example, it stipulates crematorium administrators who cause environmental pollution by using sub-standard cremation equipments will be prosecuted.

The revised version standardizes and advocates environmentally friendly burials such as "sea burial" and "river burial".

In recent years, the speculative trade of coffin pits has become increasingly unrestrained, resulting in soaring prices and seething public discontent.

In Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, the average price of coffin pits in a public cemetery is now 7,800 yuan (US$1,000) per square meter while the city's average house price is less than 4,000 yuan (US$513) per square meter.

The city's average coffin pit price was less than 5,000 yuan (US$641) per square meter two years ago.

Yang Hu, a funeral affairs official of the city, said it was customers that actually supported the high price of coffin pits.

"People can choose other means of preserving cinerary boxes, or they can choose sea burials or tree burials, which are more economical and civilized," Yang said.

For example, preserving cinerary urns in funeral parlors costs less than 100 yuan (US$13) for each box per year.

In China, the traditional belief that a dead person can have a peaceful afterlife only if buried in a grave, is still widely accepted.

(China Daily April 3, 2007)

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