Dead serious: Villagers hand over coffins in Chinese funeral reform campaign

Villagers from a province in eastern China have turned over close to 6,000 coffins to local officials as part of a campaign to promote cremation instead of burying the dead.
Family members carry the coffin of the dead during the funeral of a senior citizen in Jiaodai Township on October 27, 2005 in Lantian County of Shaanxi Province, China.(Getty Images)
Family members carry the coffin of the dead during the funeral of a senior citizen in Jiaodai Township on October 27, 2005 in Lantian County of Shaanxi Province, China.(Getty Images)
Updated on Jun 26, 2018 11:51 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Beijing | BySutirtho Patranobis

Villagers from a province in eastern China have turned over close to 6,000 coffins to local officials as part of a campaign to promote cremation instead of burying the dead.

The move has triggered controversy with many villagers, especially the elderly, reluctantly taking part in the campaign, a part of the government’s efforts to encourage environment-friendly final rites.

The campaign, according to state media, dissuades citizens from buying expensive wooden coffins and wasting agricultural land by using it for burials.

More than 5,780 coffins were handed over to local authorities of Gaoan village in eastern Jiangxi by residents last week, the government-run Paper.cn website reported on Sunday.  

The campaign hasn’t been easy to run for the government, and is clashing with age-old traditions practised across the vast country, especially in rural areas.

For one, the tradition of burying the dead in expensive, wooden coffins is practised in many parts of China and many citizens believe it is a symbol of wealth and status.

According to the report, the Gaoan government is offering 2,000 yuan ($308) as compensation for every coffin surrendered, while locals spent more than 3,000 yuan on an average on making one.

The website had reported earlier that the destruction of more than 1,000 wooden coffins to promote eco-friendly funeral reforms in the same province had sparked a backlash on Chinese social media. Many believe bodies should be kept intact after death.

“In one town, authorities dug up one interred body after relatives had ignored the new rules. Elsewhere, villagers lamented to media that they only agreed to hand over their coffins because they would be confiscated anyway,” reported sixthtone.com.

Under President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are punished if they violate regulations on funerals, including buying lavish tombs to bury the dead.

The new rules introduced by the government include a ban on “unapproved burials” and the “purchase of oversized tombs” and CPC members are being urged to opt for environmentally friendly funerals.

An earlier list of rules issued by the central government defined environment-friendly funerals as “sea burials, burial or scattering of ashes at the bases of trees, and storage of ashes (or) remains in boxes or urns”.

The government, experts say, needs to be flexible about the campaign or it could trigger suicides as reported in 2014. A group of senior citizens had reportedly committed suicide in a village in the same province after local authorities slapped a deadline on burials, following which the dead had to be mandatorily cremated.

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