The three-day weekend around last Friday’s Tomb Sweeping Day was a busy period for families across China. Also known as the Qingming Festival, the holiday sees millions of people go to graveyards to honour their ancestors and burn ‘ghost money’ in Taoist tribute.
Customs like these are creating tensions in the outskirts of the northern city of Tianjin, however, where local authorities want to tear out tombs on local farmland.
Their goal is to clear unauthorised graves but families are incandescent because of a belief that the dead must be left in peace if the living are to prosper. “In Chinese traditional culture, digging up other peoples’ graves brings on the most vicious curse,” Yuan Canxing, a professor at Wuxi City College in eastern China, told the Financial Times.
Tianjin’s civil affairs bureau is unmoved, the Global Times reported, confirming that local families have been ordered to take out all tombs by the end of April to return the land for farming use. As WiC has pointed out many times before the central government is keen to promote cremation as an alternative to burial (see WiC406) in part because the country is edging ever closer to the state’s ‘red line’ on the total available acreage of arable land. This farmland total is deemed to be crucial to China remaining self-sufficient in food, but it has been dwindling over the past three decades due to arable territory being converted to industrial uses and thanks also to rapid urbanisation.