Society

Dead expensive

Funerals are big business

Graveyards are prime real estate, and the tenants never complain

When the father of Miss Chen passed away, the first phone call she received wasn’t from relatives offering their condolences, but a funeral service company marketing their one-stop funeral service, said Yangcheng Evening News. In her grief, Chen selected a Rmb7,999 ($1,168) ‘all inclusive’ package for her father.

China’s funeral business is thriving. Analysts reckon that it turns over Rmb200 billion a year. According to the Shanghai-based Oriental Radio Station, the funeral business has been selected as one of the “10 most lucrative industries” by Chinese netizens for three years in a row.

Death costs more than it used to. This year’s celebration of the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, saw a backlash against the rising price of graves and funeral services in recent years. The annual festival sees millions of mainlanders visit the gravesites of their ancestors and loved ones.

Due to the traditional preference for burials and the limited land supply available, prices of cemetery slots have gone up significantly over the past decade. A standard grave in Wuhan can cost from Rmb30,000 to Rmb200,000 per square metre, while a decade ago, the same slot cost less than Rmb7,000 per square metre, says the Changjiang Times.

In fact, the disparity in per square foot prices between property purchases and more permanent resting places has widened expansively in a number of cities. Many mainlanders are complaining that they can no longer afford to die.

Critics have urged the government to rein in the industry’s excesses. But it has been reluctant to intervene. An official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the government body in charge of overseeing the industry, said that it was regulating the price of basic funeral services, such as picking up the body, storage, cremation and preservation of ashes. However, the prices of other items like urns and gravesites should be allowed to fluctuate.

His remark did little to calm netizens’ anger. Many accused the government of avoiding its responsibilities, with one lamenting: “I already can’t afford to buy a house, and now I don’t even have the means to bury the dead.”

It is probably no great surprise that the financial prospects of the funereal profession have been attracting the interest of college graduates. Last month, the Shanghai Funeral Service Centre held its first job fair for university students, with 5,000 graduates competing for 400 jobs. Most of them were lured by salaries of up to Rmb15,000 ($2,190) a month for new employees.

According to Wang Hongjie, director of Shanghai Funeral Service Centre: “In previous years, we have recruited a lot of college students and our turnover is low. This proves how charming the industry is.”


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