Bigger push expected for cremation

Updated: 2014-03-27 23:45

By Fan Feifei (China Daily)

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The Ministry of Civil Affairs will make deeper reforms in the face of a decline in the cremation rate, which dropped to 49.5 percent in 2012 from 53 percent in 2005, and further improve funeral and interment services for ordinary people, Minister Li Liguo said on Thursday in Beijing.

"At least one funeral home should be set up at each county in cremation zones," Li said at the fourth national funeral and interment work conference. "Efforts should be made to increase the funeral service stations moderately, establish funeral services platforms in the services network, plan and build columbaria scientifically and control the number and area of the cemeteries."

Li said the average annual cremation rate across the nation should increase by 0.5 to 1 percent per year before 2020. Sea burial, tree burial and other "green burials" are expected to reach 40 percent in 2020.

By 2020, the government aims to eradicate situations of burying at random places, as well as "second burials," in which ashes are placed in a coffin after cremation and then buried in a cemetery.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the number of funeral homes in China increased to 1,782 in 2012 from 1,289 in 1997, and the number of people working in the funeral and interment business has grown to 77,000 in 2012 from 30,000 in 1997.

Li said fees for basic funeral and interment services, including transportation and storage of the body, cremation and care of ashes, will be exempted or subsidized for low-income people, whether they are rural or urban residents.

He added that a competitive mechanism will be introduced for optional services, such as body preservation and funeral arrangements, and the government will also increase supervision to avoid inflated prices.

Experts said it will be a tough task due to tradition and the high prices at funeral homes.

Chen Huawen, an expert on funerals and interment from Zhejiang Normal University, told China Daily that "because of some faiths and Chinese traditional views, the families of the deceased prefer ground burial rather than cremation".

Although the government promotes cremation, "second burials" are still very popular.

Wang Guohua, deputy director of the China Funeral Association, said that "one of the biggest problems that prevent the popularity of cremation could be the overcharge of the services from funeral homes".

Furthermore, Wang said, family members of the deceased are more likely to bury the ashes after cremation, influenced by traditional ideas but also because the price of a tomb is extremely high.