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China's funeral industry accused of robbing the living to bury the dead (2)

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09:59, April 05, 2010

TOMB ROBBERY

Tombs are another major source of profit for the industry. In a suburban graveyard in west Beijing, Liu Hai has just bought an 0.8 square meter tomb for 75,000 yuan.

"The tomb's price per square meter was even higher than that of premium apartments in urban Beijing. But it was for my mother, I had no choice," Liu says.

In Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, tombs of several square meters are priced from 5,000 yuan to 60,000 yuan while urban apartments cost 4,700 yuan per square meter, says Zhang Fengying, owner of a tomb agency.

City governments, which put a priority in meeting demand for housing land, are very prudent in allocating land for graves, creating a supply shortage, says Liu Tieliang, vice president of Chinese Folklore Society.

To meet the demand, more suburban graveyards need to be developed. More importantly, rural graveyards need to improve service and management standards to win the trust of urban customers, Liu says.

FUNERAL HOMES UNDER SCRUTINY

China released its first green paper on the funeral industry on March 31. It says a Beijing family spends 3,000 yuan on average for a service package in funeral homes. The cost does not include the money spent at home, tombs or funeral supply shops outside the public facilities.

The green paper sparked a heated debate among Internet users. In a poll by portal Sohu.com, 92 percent of 5,600 respondents agreed the funeral industry is earning too much and 78.6 percent believed the green paper underestimated the average cost of each funeral service.

The cost of a package, including body storage, cosmetics, dressing, transport, funeral and cremation ranges from 3,000 to 60,000 yuan, says a man surnamed Liu, who works in a state-run Beijing funeral home.

Most of China's funeral homes are state-run, creating a conflict of interest with government organs that are supposed to supervise them. This is the root of the unreasonable profits of the funeral industry, says Yang Genlai, a scholar with the Institute of Administrative Cadres under the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA).

The government should transfer operational rights to industry associations and focus on supervision and management as to build a healthy market, Yang says.


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