East China port city promotes sea burials

15:29, April 20, 2011      

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Carrying the small casket containing the cremains of her husband, Tang Qunfang traveled about 700 km by train to the eastern port city of Qingdao to bid last farewell to him.

Tang, a woman in her fifties from the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang, was among 2,784 people who took part in a public sea burial ceremony last weekend, which was organized by the government of Qingdao in Shandong Province.

Before that, Qingdao had been organizing public sea burials since 1991, with the cremains of 4,527 people having been scattered into the sea off the coast of the city.

Since October 2010, the city government has provided free sea burials to people with permanent Qingdao residence certificates. Two free public sea burial ceremonies have been held since then.

Some inland governments are also considering co-hosting sea burials with Qingdao to meet the needs of their constituents.

"I have learnt about sea burials in newspapers and other media. I realize that it is a kind of environment-friendly way of burial," Tang said.

With land resources running scarce, eco-friendly burial methods such as scattering ashes into the sea or burying them under trees or flowers have been promoted by authorities across the country over the past years to conserve land space.

There has been an increase in the number of people applying for sea burials after the Qingdao government adopted the free public sea burial initiative. However, sea burial is a controversial phenomenon, as it contradicts traditional Chinese ideas and beliefs, said Guo Kehuang, an official from the Qingdao Civil Affairs Bureau.

Traditional Chinese beliefs dictate that inhumation, or the act of burying someone in the ground, is the proper way to bury a deceased person. In other words, Chinese people believe that the dead can only rest in peace in a tomb that is in good condition and in a natural setting.

In order to show filial piety to their deceased parents, many Chinese invest heavily in their parents' tombs. As a result, luxurious graveyards, some of which are priced above one million yuan (about 153.24 U.S. dollars), can be found in some parts of the country.

All of those having chosen sea burials for their loved ones are urban dwellers, Guo said. It seems that sea burials are harder for rural people to accept, largely because they are more likely to adhere to traditional burial philosophies.

Guo said local governments should strive to promote sea burials in rural areas.

Qingdao is planning to construct public memorial areas for those involved in sea burials, Guo said. These areas will feature monuments, memorial halls and memorial walls for people to mourn their deceased loved ones.

Source: Xinhua
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