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Body repatriation becomes growing business in country

By Li Yao  (China Daily)

09:24, September 18, 2012

With millions of people flocking to China from overseas, either for travel or work, it's little wonder that a greater number are returning home in a box.

Roughly 1,500 foreign nationals die in China every year, according to an estimate by a funeral industry insider, with even more Chinese people meeting the same fate abroad.

Tragic as those statistics may be for some, funeral parlors that offer body repatriation services have witnessed a steady increase in business over the last decade.

With more companies jostling for market share, however, some have complained that State-owned enterprises have established a monopoly, which coupled with lax government supervision has resulted in inflated prices.

Set up in 1993, the National Funeral Association has built a network of 34 funeral parlors spread across 25 provinces, municipalities and regions, handling a combined 1,800 body repatriations a year. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, that number represents a sixfold increase from the early 1990s.

The main causes of foreigners' deaths are heart attacks, especially myocardial infarction, and traffic accidents, the association said, but was unable to break down the numbers.

Traveling corpses

Only funeral homes licensed by the association can handle the corpses of foreign nationals, while quarantine authorities decide which of them can move the bodies.

Babaoshan Funeral Services was one of the first such businesses to be established and is still the only authorized funeral home in Beijing. Because of its long-standing connections with embassies, consulates and international airlines, the State-owned company is not limited to the capital, and can take jobs across China, said Gao Qi, who is in charge of foreign remains repatriation.

Other centers usually work a district, such as Chengdu Funeral Services, the certified service in Sichuan province. "If someone in Tibet calls us, we will take the case, because the autonomous region has no (association-licensed) place there."

It usually takes about five working days to have all the required documents ready to send the body home by plane. Police and forensic exams will be needed if the cause of the death is unknown. People that die of infectious diseases should be cremated at a funeral home, according to Chinese policies, Huang said.

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