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Against tradition: why in the Chinese province launched a campaign to seize coffins and forced cremation

Against the backdrop of a lack of territories for burial, regional authorities launched a reform that urged them to abandon traditional funerals.

Getty Photos
Getty Photos

July 31, 2018 Hong Kong South China Morning Post reported the results of the first weeks of “funeral reform” in the Chinese province of Jiangxi in the southeast. During it more than five thousand local residents seized coffins, which they kept in their homes. This is only the beginning of the campaign – on September 1 in the region the decree prohibiting burying the deceased according to traditional customs will come into force.

Residents of the country met the campaign with criticism, but, apparently, the authorities are planning only to increase turnover. The country has long had a shortage of places to bury people, and the government has found only one solution to this problem – forced cremation of the dead.

Empty coffins

“I believe that government reform is aimed at helping people so that future generations have more free territory for life,” said a resident of a small village in the Chinese province of Jiangxi on that June day when they came to his house for a coffin. He was one of those five thousand people who by June 23 handed their coffins to state representatives.

As the government paper The Paper wrote, such effective work was the result of a well-established technique of the “door-to-door” movement, largely due to communication with local residents. For example, one of the heroes of the material, a 94-year-old man with hearing problems, at first did not understand what was being demanded of him. But when he was shown a document on changing the conditions of burial in the region, he “immediately gave his coffin, which he kept for many years,” – follows from the report of the state publication.

The campaign to collect coffins is connected with a new decree, which comes into force in Jiangxi from September 1, 2018. He forbids bury the dead by the traditional method – instead all the bodies will have to be cremated. As compensation for the coffin, each resident receives two thousand yuan (about $ 308), but that enough to cover only a part of the money spent. The manufacture of the coffin in China costs up to five thousand yuan ($ 796) – a huge amount for many villagers. For refusing to give the coffin, offenders are fined.

A pile of dumped coffins, allegedly seized from local residents in Jiangxi. Frame from the video in the social network Weibo
A pile of dumped coffins, allegedly seized from local residents in Jiangxi. Frame from the video in the social network Weibo

As the South China Morning Post writes, shortly after the start of the campaign in Weibo , the largest Chinese social network , photos and videos were distributedwhere unknown people store dozens of coffins, throw them on the ground, drag sobbing people away from them or retrieve bodies wrapped in cloth.

The reliability of these videos is not confirmed – the government edition of Global Times claims that it has not found evidence of cases of extracting corpses from coffins. “These coffins were kept in the ancestors’ hall with my grandparents for more than 30 years, as carpenters made them using wood grown on our land,” said the 29-year-old anonymous resident of the village in Jiangxi. In many Chinese provinces, there is still a belief that pre-making a coffin brings good luck and prolongs life.

The unknown pulls out of the coffin an old woman. Presumably, she did not want to give her coffin and tried to lie down in it. Frame from the video in the social network Weibo
The unknown pulls out of the coffin an old woman. Presumably, she did not want to give her coffin and tried to lie down in it. Frame from the video in the social network Weibo

The more obvious, that many people met the government initiative with criticism. According to the BBC, thousands of service users spoke out against the government initiative, pointing out that officials do not take into account the feelings of local residents and force people to give coffins. According to the Global Times, in some cases, local authorities used police force to confiscate coffins from protest farmers.

New order

As time shows, the indignation of the inhabitants of the country can delay, but not stop the plans of the Chinese government. This is largely due to the demographic crisis. In addition to the first place in the world population rating (1, 37 billion people), China ranks first in the mortality rating – about 10 million people die annually in the country .

This statistical record led to a boom in the ritual services market, whose capitalization in 2013 exceeded $ 15 billion. While the authorities tried to take control of the situation, the territory for burial quickly ended and was worth. In 2015, the cost of funeral in the city cemetery in Beijing was almost 11 thousand dollars.

Around the same time, the authorities began promoting the idea of ​​a “funeral reform”, which provided for the renunciation of the traditional ritual in favor of cremation. The leaders of many coastal cities offered discounts for boats for “sea funerals”, when the cremated remains of the deceased are dumped into the sea. However, the initiative quickly faced the outrage of the population, most of which, despite the modernization of the country, adhered to the traditional foundations. For three or four years, the authorities have not succeeded in persuading the majority of citizens to abandon their convictions in favor of new rules.

An elderly woman touches the coffin before the workers take it away for recycling. Photos by The Paper
An elderly woman touches the coffin before the workers take it away for recycling. Photos by The Paper

The authorities of Jiangxi started active measures in April 2018 – then during the trial “detour” the villagers handed over about a thousand coffins, which later were destroyed. This provoked outrage among the local residents, against the background of which the government media reported that several high-ranking members of the Communist Party had also handed their coffins to the authorities to support the reform. The names of officials were not disclosed.

“My coffin was made 27 years ago. At first I did not want to, but my children convinced me that cremation is better, ” said a woman named Gong in a conversation with the government press after the reform began. The opinion of the villager agrees with the position of many members of the Communist Party of China, including the leaders of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. In 2014, the agency promised that by the end of 2020 the frequency of cremations (and not burials) of the deceased will approach 100% throughout the country.

That year, the announcement of the authorities led to a tragedy: six elderly residents of Anqing province committed suicide. Then the local government rejected the idea that mass suicide is connected with news of the decree, despite the statements of relatives of the deceased. According to them, the elderly people wanted to be buried in coffins before the adoption of the law.

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