An­hui in­ci­dent ex­poses gap in burial pol­icy

Of­fi­cials dis­cussing set­tle­ment with fam­ily af­ter ex­hum­ing, burn­ing body

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By HE DAN in Bei­jing WANG ZHENGHUA in Shang­hai


Au­thor­i­ties in An­hui prov­ince said on Mon­day that they are look­ing into a dis­pute that has erupted af­ter of­fi­cials ex­humed and cre­mated a body with­out the per­mis­sion of the dead per­son’s fam­ily.

The case ex­posed ad­min­is­tra­tive prob­lems and le­gal loop­holes that chal­lenge China’s ef­forts to move from a burial cul­ture to one of cre­ma­tion in or­der to save land, ex­perts said.

The con­tro­versy be­gan af­ter Cheng Chaomu, 83, died in Qin­feng vil­lage in Jingx­ian county on Dec 13. His fam­ily buried him three days later, say­ing it was his dy­ing wish.

Shortly af­ter the burial, the fam­ily re­ceived an or­der from the Jingx­ian county civil af­fairs bureau de­mand­ing they make proper cre­ma­tion ar­range­ments.

On Dec 19, county of­fi­cials, po­lice and fire­fight­ers went to Qin­feng, ex­humed the body and burned it.

Un­der na­tional law, cre­ma­tion is manda­tory in “cre­ma­tion zones”. Lo­cal gov­ern­ments can di­vide their ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions into cre­ma­tion and burial zones, with most burial zones be­ing in less-pop­u­lated, eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas, and most cre­ma­tion zones be­ing in cities.

In the Jingx­ian case, “They just dug it up, poured on two bar­rels of diesel and set it on fire,” said Cheng Yingfu, Cheng Chaomu’s old­est son.

He said no fam­ily mem­bers were present when the body was ex­humed.

Footage from An­hui TV showed a clash be­tween vil­lagers and po­lice af­ter the forced cre­ma­tion.

The Jingx­ian county gov­ern­ment de­clined to com­ment on the mat­ter on Mon­day. A spokesman from the county’s pub­lic se­cu­rity bureau said he was un­aware of the case.

The Mir­ror news­pa­per in Bei­jing quoted an un­named county of­fi­cial as say­ing his au­thor­ity was asked to re­port the in­ci­dent to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, and a county rep­re­sen­ta­tive has been sum­moned to He­fei, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, to as­sist in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The of­fi­cial said the county had been talk­ing to fam­ily mem­bers to reach a set­tle­ment, and he in­sisted they were told ahead of time of the cre­ma­tion plans.

Cheng’s fam­ily said the county gov­ern­ment acted in “retri­bu­tion” for a dis­pute last year over re­lo­ca­tion com­pen­sa­tion, say­ing other house­holds had buried loved ones with­out be­ing pun­ished.

Bao Yuan, di­rec­tor of the Huan­qiu Fu­neral In­sti­tute, crit­i­cized the lo­cal of­fi­cials’ ac­tions, say­ing, “Dig­ging up a corpse and cre­mat­ing it im­me­di­ately at the burial plot was in­hu­mane and showed lit­tle re­spect for the de­ceased and the fam­ily.”

Al­though the case was “rare and ex­treme”, it ex­posed prob­lems in gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion, said Bao, who has stud­ied fu­neral re­form in China for more than 20 years.

The State Coun­cil, China’s Cab­i­net, amended reg­u­la­tions on fu­neral man­age­ment in 2012 by aban­don­ing a rule that the gov­ern­ment can re­sort to forced cre­ma­tion if fam­ily mem­bers of the de­ceased refuse to cre­mate the body or bury the body in a des­ig­nated ceme­tery.

How­ever, the re­vised law failed to clar­ify the proper re­sponse for lo­cal gov­ern­ments if res­i­dents don’t co­op­er­ate, Bao said. The re­sult is chaos and in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponses by lo­cal gov­ern­ments, he added.

Chen Chun­long, a law pro­fes­sor at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, said the fam­ily could po­ten­tially take the county civil af­fairs bureau to court.

How­ever, the fam­ily said it is pe­ti­tion­ing for the re­lease of sev­eral peo­ple de­tained in the Dec 19 con­flict in­stead.

Fu­neral re­form

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment asked Party mem­bers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to take the lead in pro­mot­ing the prac­tice of cre­ma­tion ear­lier

Dig­ging up a corpse and cre­mat­ing it im­me­di­ately at the burial plot was in­hu­mane and showed lit­tle re­spect.” BAO YUAN DI­REC­TOR OF THE HUAN­QIU FU­NERAL IN­STI­TUTE

this month.

The cre­mat ion rate dropped to 49.5 per­cent in 2012 from 53 in 2005, Civil Af­fairs Min­is­ter Li Liguo said on Wed­nes­day.

He said pro­mot­ing cre­ma­tion is nec­es­sary to save land re­sources, pro­tect arable land to en­sure food safety, and to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

China be­gan to pro­mote cre­ma­tion in 1956 af­ter 151 Party and cen­tral gov­ern­men­tal of­fi­cials signed an ini­tia­tive to cre­mate their bod­ies and build no graves af­ter their deaths, Li said.

China’s fu­neral re­form has faced chal­lenges, in­clud­ing in­stances of some peo­ple in cre­ma­tion zones se­cretly bury­ing their rel­a­tives. Some of­fi­cials abuse their power, build­ing ex­trav­a­gant burial plots and hold­ing banquets af­ter the fu­neral to get en­velopes filled of money from at­ten­dees, usu­ally busi­ness­men and sub­or­di­nates, he said.

For th­ese rea­sons, the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of China and the State Coun­cil jointly is­sued guid­ance this month that re­quire Party mem­bers and gov­ern­men­tal of­fi­cials to fol­low reg­u­la­tions on fu­ner­als and set an ex­am­ple for or­di­nary peo­ple.

The guid­ance stip­u­lated that all Party mem­bers and gov­ern­men­tal of­fi­cials must choose cre­ma­tion if con­di­tions al­low and hold a sim­ply cer­e­mony. Both Party mem­bers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are en­cour­aged to do­nate their or­gans and bod­ies af­ter death. Con­tact the writ­ers at hedan@ chi­ and wangzhenghua@chi­

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