And Finally

Coffin capitalism

Shanghai undertaker turns gangster to win market share

Coffin capitalism

Costly casket: oh yes, it's a 24k gold

Vito Corleone and his fictional mobsters ran protection rackets, gambling dens and any number of illegal businesses. But the Godfather never got into the funeral business.

He may have been missing a trick, if the experience of a Shanghai gang boss is anything to go by.

The China Daily reports that Zhou Wangcheng employed 18 local henchmen to terrorise rivals and monopolise the local funeral business.

With 100,000 people dying in Shanghai each year, funerals are big business. Zhou, whose nickname is Little Tiger, wanted to dominate it – and succeeded in doing through his reign of intimidation.

Little Tiger started out small enough. He opened his firm in 1999, and initially sold wreaths. But he soon concluded that the real money was to be made selling caskets and arranging post-funeral feasts.

He decided the best way to build market share was to lean on local mortuaries and hospital emergency units. This gave him a headstart on discovering the identities of the recently deceased and pitching for the funeral needs of the bereaved families. But in a city with 21 certified funeral services (plus around 80 underground operators), competition remained intense.

So Zhou hired 18 “hooligans” and paid them Rmb3,000 ($438) per month to intimidate his rivals, reports the Shanghai Daily.

In his most brazen attempt to win market share, he had his gang attack the premises of four rival services, and injure four store employees. Armed fights were also instigated – at his behest – “for territory”.

Indeed, on top of making “huge profits” from selling his caskets and organising dinners, he also extorted funds from rivals by offering them exclusive rights to ‘work’ certain hospitals – creating a sort of funereal protection racket.

Zhou was charged by the Shanghai Zhabei District People’s Court with organising a criminal gang and admitted to using bullying tactics; meanwhile his heavies pleaded guilty to joining the gang. A verdict is still pending.

In the wake of the various revelations about the ‘Tombfather’, Shanghai’s municipal civil affairs bureau has announced that it is drafting a revised law to regulate the funeral services sector.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.