DEATH is an important life event, and to the Chinese, a proper sending-off ceremony ensures the soul of the deceased reaches the afterlife.
As China’s economy continues booming and the people’s standard of living improves, more and more of them are willing to splurge on funerals, which were once banned by the Communist Party.
Recently, a funeral in a small village in Hunan province became a hot topic because it supposedly cost 600,000 yuan (RM372,000).
What made it more intriguing was that the deceased was not a big shot or someone from a wealthy family. He was a 52-year-old construction worker who was killed in a worksite accident.
It was the compensation for the mishap that was spent on the funeral for Luo Chongwei.
The village’s party branch secretary, Luo Chongqian, was at the centre of the controversy because he organised the “grand event”.
In China, a village party branch secretary is the grassroots cadre of the Communist Party who oversees the community’s development, environmental, social and other affairs.
The person is generally well-respected by the local folk.
After Chongwei’s death, his four grieving sisters left it to Chongqian, who is a relative, to handle the 1.05 million yuan (RM651,800) compensation and the funeral.
They, however, regretted their decision after being told that more than half of the money had been used for the three-day funeral.
They suspected that Chongqian had pocketed some of the money.
The sisters told www.thepaper.cn that it is a tradition in the village that immediate family members do not take charge of funeral matters.
They also complained that Chongqian refused to return the rest of the compensation, saying he needed it for the grave and other related expenses.
The siblings have filed complaints with the county’s party disciplinary investigation committee and party supervisory committee.
Chongqian, however, claimed innocence.
He explained that 60,000 yuan (RM37,200) was for the hiring of six professional mourners. It was also reported that other expenses included 33,200 yuan (RM20,600) for liquor and 87,370 yuan (RM54,200) for fireworks and firecrackers.
The provision of funeral services is one of the most promising businesses in China due to the ageing population.
China records about 10 million deaths yearly, and the figure is expected to reach 25 million within the next 50 years.
Many people have criticised the huge spending on funerals, saying it does little to reflect the children’s filial piety for the parents.
But others believe that the trend can boost the funeral services industry and create job opportunities for many people.
To control land use and to protect the environment, the Chinese government encourages its citizens to opt for cremation instead of burial.
Certain parts of the nation have even banned burial, but the policy has sparked a backlash because the Chinese traditionally believe that if the body is not buried whole, the soul will not rest in peace.
To get around these regulations, some people look for substitute corpses to take the place of the bodies of family members during cremation. This has given rise to crime syndicates that specialise in stealing the dead and selling cremation certificates.
In Shandong province, five people were jailed for stealing corpses and selling them to mourning families who must cremate their departed loved ones.
In February last year, funeral parlour operator Liu Changling dug up the body of an 81-year-old man in Juancheng county soon after burial and sold it to a family in Juye county, some 80km away, for 13,000 yuan (RM8,100).
The stolen corpse was dressed up as a woman to take the place of the buyer’s mother and then cremated, Global Times reported.
The body of the mother was secretly buried.
A week later, Liu and his accomplices stole two more bodies in Juancheng and sold them for 14,100 yuan (RM8,750).
Although both Juancheng and Juye are in Shandong, many people still bury their deceased family members in Juancheng due to poor enforcement.
Liu’s crime was uncovered when a Juye funeral home worker found that the gender of the body he was preparing to cremate was different from what was stated on the identification card.
The worker called the police on March 27 last year. Liu was caught in Urumqi in northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region three months later.
He was sentenced to nine months in prison after paying 80,000 yuan (RM49,660) compensation to the three families, whose dead loved ones were stolen from their graves.
Liu’s four accomplices received jail terms of between one year and 11 years.
According to The Beijing News, the Juye government said the county’s cremation rate had almost reached 100%.
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