Fu­neral in­dus­try of­fers be­reaved a sense of dig­nity

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By HUANG XIANGYANG

My fa­ther passed away early last month at the age of 86 in a hos­pi­tal in Bei­jing, one month after be­ing di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer. While heart­bro­ken to see him pass away, the oc­ca­sion pro­vided me with a rare chance to take a close look into an in­dus­try that is largely ig­nored by most peo­ple — un­der­stand­ably be­cause death re­mains a taboo sub­ject — yet is so closely re­lated with ev­ery one of us.

To be fair, the fu­neral busi­ness works well, with ef­fi­ciency and hu­man­ity. We got ev­ery­thing done within two days. A video clip of my fa­ther’s pic­tures was shown on a screen at the me­mo­rial cer­e­mony; and I felt I should thank the cos­meti­cian pro­fusely for the work he or she had done on my fa­ther to make him look his pos­si­ble best, as if he was just asleep.

The prod­ucts and ser­vices that are of­fered come with a price tag that plays on the psy­chol­ogy of one­time con­sumers. The rules that gov­ern the be­hav­ior of con­sumers, who are of­ten price-sen­si­tive, don’t ap­ply here any­more.

The un­der­taker’s, the largest in Bei­jing, of­fers a wide ar­ray of choices to be­reaved fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing burial clothes, wreaths, coffins, cas­kets, hearses and cre­ma­tion.

Wreaths made of pa­per flow­ers can be rented free, but those­madeof fresh flow­ers come at 700 yuan ($102.5) each. Cou­plets on the wreath, ei­ther printed or hand­writ­ten by cal­lig­ra­phers, are 20 yuan each.

The prices of cas­kets range from 200 yuan to around 25,000 yuan. Coffins cost be­tween sev­eral hun­dred yuan and tens of thou­sands. But if you want a bet­ter cre­ma­tion for your beloved one you have to buy a more ex­pen­sive cof­fin, said to be madeof hard­woodthat can be burnt only in fur­naces with higher-tem­per­a­ture and va­por­iza­tion lev­els.

Peo­ple are usu­ally ready to dip deep into their pock­ets un­der such spe­cial cir­cum­stances, be­cause they think do­ing other­wise would di­min­ish their sense of sor­row, or even mean dis­re­spect for the de­ceased. After all, for most peo­ple the ex­pe­ri­ence is just once or twice in a life­time, and they usu­ally don’t care about how much they spend.

It seems that few sec­tors other than the fu­neral in­dus­try can en­joy such con­stant, sta­ble and ever-ex­pand­ing con­sumer de­mand, a pri­mary driv­ing force be­hind any busi­ness boom.

Around 10 mil­lion peo­ple die in China each year nowa­days, as com­pared with 8 mil­lion in 2003. The num­ber is ex­pected to surge in com­ing years as the coun­try enters an aging so­ci­ety.

There were more than 220 mil­lion senior peo­ple, aged at 60 or above, in the coun­try by the end of 2015, or 16.1 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics.

The num­ber of senior peo­ple is pre­dicted to dou­ble by 2035, which means the mar­ket po­ten­tial is im­mense for com­pa­nies that pro­vide such ser­vices as fu­ner­als, cre­ma­tion, burial and memo­ri­als.

With about 5,000 un­der­tak­ers and 1,500 ceme­ter­ies across the coun­try in op­er­a­tion, the whole in­dus­try is now es­ti­mated to value 90 bil­lion yuan, with an an­nual com­pound growth rate of around 15 per­cent.

Fu Shou Yuan Group, listed in Hong Kong in 2013, claims to be the largest ser­vice provider in the sec­tor. It is also one of the most suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies, with gross profit mar­gin of up to 80 per­cent. Its prof­its re­port­edly come mostly from the ceme­ter­ies it op­er­ates across the coun­try.

As the govern­ment opens the sec­tor wider to pri­vate cap­i­tal, I hope more such en­ter­prises will emerge, with bet­ter ser­vices. Ac­tu­ally I feel in­debted to those in the sec­tor, who have helped greatly ease the mis­ery I felt atmy dad’s de­par­ture. They let me re­al­ize that the loss of life, no mat­ter great or or­di­nary, en­joys in-born dig­nity.

Con­tact the writer at huangx­i­angyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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