People in China are being encouraged to opt for vertical burial or cremation under new government funeral guidelines aimed at coping with land scarcity.
It’s hoped the guidance, issued by nine government departments, will promote environmentally friendly forms of burial that take up little or no land. These include burial at sea and tree funerals – where ashes are interred beneath a newly planted tree. Shared family tombs and arranging coffins vertically also get the nod, as do smaller plots and gravestones. The guidelines stress that the funeral traditions of ethnic minorities should be respected.
Rapid development and urban growth has put pressure on the country’s land resources, but state-run China Daily says previous attempts at reform have fallen foul of deep-rooted Chinese burial customs, despite measures such as acremation competition. Cremation rates actually fell slightly between 2005 and 2012, from 53% to 49.5%, according to the Ministry for Civil Affairs, which wants it to reach 100% by the end of 2020. The government has urged members of the ruling Communist Party to “take the lead” or face punishment.
The move has been met with outrage on social media, with thousands of comments posted on the Sina Weibo microblogging site. “Has the government lost the plot?” one user exclaims, while another complains: “Even after life, death must be regulated.” One person draws parallels with the country’s chronic housing shortage: “No place to live during this lifetime, after death it’s the same.” But some are more philosophical. “Everyone dies – I don’t mind what happens to me after death,” one user says.