Parents' good deed, daughter pays the price
ZHOU Songying moved into her new home on Dec 9 - her family's third move in the past six years, so that they could avoid neighbours' "harsh words and judgmental stares", all because she had donated her parents' organs following their deaths, the China Daily reported, citing Thepaper.cn.
Her parents had signed up as organ donors in 2002, becoming the first donor couple in Suzhou.
Ms Zhou helped donate her father's body when he died in 2006.
"Neighbours and relatives asked (whether it is because) I didn't have enough money to afford a decent burial for my father," Ms Zhou said, adding that some even asked her to "return the body".
So she decided to move, together with her ill mother, to escape the criticism.
"Some close friends told me not to donate my mother's body, but I said 'no'," she added.
Ms Zhou's mother died in 2008. When the donation certificate from the Red Cross was sent to Ms Zhou's new workplace, the news spread. She quit her job as a kindergarten teacher shortly after that.
"They said that I was not a filial daughter because I sold my parents' bodies out," Ms Zhou said.
In China, many still believe that bodies should remain intact after death.
Ms Zhou said that when she signed up to donate her organs at the Suzhou Medical School in 2002, the receptionist seemed shocked and asked if she had thought it through. Ms Zhou was 37 then.
"Society was very conservative back then, and some thought I might have some health problems or life-threatening issues," she recalled.
Ms Zhou's 25-year-old daughter also signed up two years ago, but has not told her colleagues about it.
Luckily, attitudes towards body donation have started to change. When Ms Zhou's story was covered by a local newspaper, she received many calls. Apart from condemnation, there were some "second voices", she said with relief. Some even asked her about the procedure for donating bodies.
Donors are not the only ones having to battle outdated social and cultural stigmas - those working in the field are targeted too.
"We were often verbally abused and some said we were ominous," said Shao Peiying, vice-director of body donation with the Suzhou Red Cross.
Things have improved in recent years. According to Ms Shao, more than 2,000 people have registered for organ donations with the Suzhou Red Cross since 2005.
"There were only 100 in the beginning," said Ms Shao.
Donations are voluntary, with donors receiving a certificate from the Red Cross and getting their names printed in a memorial park, Ms Zhou said. Memorial ceremonies are held around the Tomb Sweeping Day period in April every year.
But Thepaper.cn suggested that more needs to be done for donors. For example, volunteers should be given more support.
In cities like Guangdong, donors' families have to pay to ship the body to specific locations, while in Shanghai, family members usually find an empty room - without even a flower - when they attend the farewell ceremony for the body.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK