Grave issue
Apr 12, 2019 (WiC 448)

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.

Wuhan’s wardrobe controversy
Apr 5, 2019 (WiC 447)

Wuhan University has been making waves over the past week, but less because of its academic standards and more because of its cherry blossoms. The fuss started when two visitors were not permitted to see the sakura trees – allegedly because they were wearing Japanese-style kimonos. The university later issued a statement playing down the incident and blaming the visitors for not having made reservations and being rude to its security guard.

State broadcaster CCTV defended the university saying it was “a campus not a park”. However, many netizens were unconvinced, believing that it was the visitors’ decision to dress in kimonos that had led to their much publicised denial of entry, despite the men’s claims that they were actually wearing an ancient Chinese outfit, which is believed to have inspired the design of the kimono.

The sensitivity derives from the history of the trees: they were planted by the Japanese military during its occupation of Wuhan during the Second World War. That led one netizen to comment that turning up in a kimono was little better than wearing a Japanese army uniform. Butf others, on the other hand, ridiculed the idea that a dress code might be in place and saw it more as a case of patriotism taken too far.

Seats of (unexpected) power
Mar 29, 2019 (WiC 446)

The country that’s far and away the most famed for its ‘smart toilets’ is unquestionably Japan, where these electric devices can cost as much as $11,000. That’s the price tag for Toto’s top of the range Neorest which opens the lid when you approach, warms up the seat, deodorises your deposit, auto flushes and then shuts the lid when you walk away.

‘Smart toilets’ are increasingly popular in China too. This prompted the Shanghai Municipal Market Supervision Administration to test the safety of 28 of the trendiest electrical toilets seats currently available for purchase online.

Most of the brands on sale were priced well below the Toto toilet (between Rmb1,000 and Rmb2,000) but they weren’t nearly as advanced, and according to the Global Times, 39% of the candidates failed to pass quality tests. Some were downright dangerous, the Shanghai testing team claimed, with warnings that a few could even give off electric shocks.

The newspaper said that some of the local manufacturers had diversified into seat-making from their core business of making ceramic toilet bowls. However, it also pointed out that three out of five smart seats from South Korea failed to make the grade too.