In the tail of February when Chinese people are still in a post-Lunar New Year festive mood, they have been suddenly pulled back to harsh reality through a topic seen as taboo in such a holiday season – death.
A joint statement released by nine ministries called for burial of deceased family members in a cemetery plot rather than the traditional one-plot-for-one-body practice.
The statement came on Wednesday, two days after the Lantern Festival, and caused discussions over life and death one month earlier than due as the topic is usually popular in Qingming Festival, or Tomb Spring Festival known as a day when people visit cemeteries and pay tribute to ancestors.
With or without the festivity-mutilated statement, Chinese people are still frustrated with the beyond-reach prices of cemeteries especially in big cities where sky-high housing prices, job pressure, and air pollution have already made for difficult standards of living. This leads to philosophical frustrations – why is it equally hard to die?
How hard can it be? In Beijing, a burial plot can claim from 40,000 yuan ($6,214) per square to tens of thousands of dollars, while price tag also pick up from 50,000 yuan ($7,655) per square and up in Shanghai and Guangzhou. The per square cost of where the body will be laid can rival that of a comfortable apartment one can buy to live an actual life.
Soaring prices didn’t scare people away from getting their dead family members into earth though. Traditional Chinese funeral rites advocate extravagant burials in a way to make their ancestors rest not only in peace, but also in dignity.
Convention also prefers the practice of bodies being buried in the soil than ash spreading as a Chinese saying goes – "Falling leaves settle on their roots". This explains why authorities have promoted eco-friendly funerals, such as spreading ash to the sea, but for years they’ve only received cold shoulders.