CHINA> National
Netizens slam windfall in funerals business
By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-04 10:41

Netizens across the country, numbering in the many thousands, have criticized the need for expensive funeral services and called for such services to be made available free of cost by the government.

The angry outbursts online comes just days before the Qingming Festival, or the traditional tomb-sweeping day, which falls on Saturday this year.

Netizens said the obsequies business was turning "monopolistic" and one that was profiting hugely from a somber event.

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A netizen from Hebei province, whose family is engaged in making essential items related to funerals, said shrouds sold at funeral homes are priced between 800 yuan ($118) and 1,000 yuan each, when the actual cost was less than 200 yuan.

Funerary urns, which funeral houses discourage people from making themselves, are also priced at more than 300 yuan, although the cost is only between 30 and 80 yuan, the netizen said.

And, graves of course are more expensive. A standard grave can cost anywhere between 14,000 yuan and 20,000 yuan per sq m in Guangzhou, while those in better locations in the city may cost between 200,000 yuan and 1 million yuan. On the other hand, the average cost of a house in Guangzhou is only 9,000 yuan per sq m, with prime locations priced at 20,000 yuan per sq m.

Big business in monopoly

Guangming Daily had earlier reported that if, on an average, each funeral service costs 2,000 yuan, then, at an average of 8 million deaths per year, the country's funeral services business would be worth an enormous 16 billion yuan.

If the sales of graves are counted in, then it could generate more than 200 billion yuan each year, the newspaper said.

An official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs admitted that the funeral services business was a "natural monopoly", the China News Agency reported on Friday.

The official said the government was regulating the price of basic funeral services, including picking up the body, storage, cremation and preservation of ashes, and that every funeral home was expected to follow orders to rule out immense profits.

However, the prices of some funeral services items, such as urns and graves, are allowed to fluctuate, he said.

Those words immediately evoked anger on the Internet, as many people pointed out that consumers are left with no choice other than to pay the exorbitant prices charged by funeral homes.

Many suggested that the government should arrange for funeral services to be provided free of cost as a social security benefit.