Grave concern in China over idea of 1 family plot for burial
THE Chinese government is urging people to bury the ashes of their late family members in only one grave no bigger than 1 sq m to save land but the move has generated polarised opinions, reported Chinese media.
A survey by the Sina news portal showed that 46.2 per cent of about 11,000 people surveyed expressed support for the directive announced by nine ministries last week while 42.2 per cent were against.
Critics find the idea of burying multiple family members in one pit offensive to traditional sensibilities, as in China only married couples are deemed close enough to be interred together.
"Does this mean a woman has to be with his parents-in-law forever so as to be with her husband?" asked commenter Wang Yali in the Rednet news portal.
She also questioned how dire the shortage of land is since even congested Beijing declared last year that there would be space in its 33 public cemeteries for another 50 years.
According to Ms Wang, the shortage stems from graveyard operators "hoarding" land to be auctioned off at high prices and it is such market manipulation that should be tackled.
Another commenter Guo Yuanpeng, writing in Yanzhao Evening Daily, noted that families who had opted for sea, tree, flower bed and lawn burials were generally poor and needed the government subsidies offered for such "ecological" ways of burying.
In such burials, ashes are scattered at sea or interred underground alongside the remains of many others in plots designated for uses such as tree growing or flower planting.
In China, not many families store ashes in columbariums as going to temple is not a widespread practice as in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"The rich would not mind paying more to have their graves look like a villa," Mr Guo pointed out.
"So, with a directive lacking teeth, we would end up seeing the rich being buried in individual graves and the poor packed into 'collective' ones," he added.
The Beijing Times commented in its editorial that family graves would affect the practice of tomb sweeping as Chinese are not used to worshipping many late kin in one site.
The directive is not a mandatory order but it expects local governments to map out measures to promote the "family burial" method.
Besides suggesting the size of a family grave, it also recommends smaller or no tomb stone and urns that would completely degrade in two years.
The pits must also be deep to take in new "members", added the directive.
Such multi-layer design is already available in some crowded cemeteries in Shanghai, another populous city, reported the Shanghai Morning Post.
"We must know how to utilise what little space we are now left with," said Li Yuzhong, operator of one such cemetery.
Graves in China are to be removed after 20 years, according to the law, but most are maintained beyond that time limit with the payment of fees to cemetery operators.
Supporters of the directive believe the time of "unregulated" burial is over as wasteful use of land would curtail the expansion of cities.
"Ecological burial would never become popular without systematic promotion as well as proper planning and regulation," wrote commenter Shu Tianlie in Beijing Times.
Some newspapers pointed out that cremation was once rejected by most Chinese, but with the top leaders leading by example, it soon became a norm in the country.
Wrote one netizen in Shenzhen's Baoan Daily: "Times are changing and we will soon worship our ancestors on the Internet.
"One family grave whose image we could view at any time when we are in the mood for mourning is a good idea."