Shanghai running out of cemeteries

By Wang Hongyi (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-12-22 08:00

SHANGHAI -- With the amount of land available for cemeteries in rapid decline, local people are having to travel further afield to pay their respects to their ancestors on the second of the city's two annual tomb-sweeping days, which falls on Saturday.

This year, on the first day of winter in the Chinese lunar calendar - the winter solstice - many people will be heading not to the center of Shanghai, but to the neighboring cities of Suzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing, where their ancestors now lie.

Although much of the land in these hilly areas is regarded as unsuitable for cemeteries, the local authorities are running out of options.

Wang Hongjie, chairman of the Shanghai Funeral & Interment Association, said on Friday that the city has about 5 million sq m of cemetery land, of which there is now just 5,000 sq m remaining.

With land resources running out, new burial methods need to be found, he said.

The maximum size for a burial plot with a single urn is 1.5 sq m, Wang said, but most cemeteries are encouraged to allocate people no more than 1 sq m.

"The city has simply run out of large, open spaces for cemeteries. If we keep allowing individual plots to take up 1.5 sq m, in less than 10 years, there will be no land left at all," he said.

In response, the city's authorities are seeking new and cost-effective burial methods.

Wang said the funeral association recently ran a campaign to promote the use of small cemeteries, as opposed to the traditionally favored large-scale ones.

"Most people want their ancestors to be buried in a big cemetery. But we hope our recent efforts will encourage at least some of them to change their minds," he told China Daily.

"There is no difference between the two kinds of cemeteries, except the size," Wang said.

Shanghai's authorities are considering a number of alternatives for smaller cemeteries, including small gardens, which use trees and flowers as memorials

They are even encouraging people to have their ashes scattered at sea, he said.

"Land is becoming so scarce that if we don't make the cemeteries smaller soon, everyone will have to scatter their ashes into the ocean."

Wang said that although about 80 percent of Shanghai people choose cremation, just 1 percent of all burials take place at sea, despite it being the cheapest option.

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