BEIIJING - As the annual tomb sweeping day is to fall on Tuesday, tens of thousands of people gathered at Beijing Changqingyuan Cemetery in the east of the city to mourn for their deceased loved ones.
In front of a special monument engraved with more than 1,000 names, groups of medical teachers and students paid their respects to "the silent teachers" - people who have donated their bodies for medical research.
Bi Shimin, a 24-year-old girl who perished last year, had her name added to the list of body donors on the monument.
Shortly after graduating from nursing school in February 2010, Bi was diagnosed with advanced cancer.
As her life ended, Bi made a decision to donate her body for medical science because she wanted to "leave a legacy to the world after her death."
The Beijing Red Cross told Xinhua that during the past 12 years since starting a body donation registry in 1999, 12,516 people have signed up to donate their bodies. So far, medical schools and research institutions have received 1088 corpses.
The donors came from all walks of life, which includes everyone from manual workers and farmers to college students and professors, said Ren Xiaoping, a staff member at the Beijing Red Cross.
According to data collected by the Red Cross, 146 bodies were donated in Beijing in 2010, up by 28 percent from the previous year.
The program for body donations in China first started in Shanghai in 1982 and then expanded to many big and medium-sized cities across the country.
Despite the growing willingness of Chinese citizens to donate their bodies, medics still complain about a shortage of corpses.
Yu Enhua, the vice chairman of Chinese Society for Anatomical Sciences, said "the current body donations can only satisfy less than half of the need for teaching and researching."
Many Chinese people, especially those living in the countryside, still cling to the traditional practice of ground burial and are against the notion of donating bodies. Many consider it as disrespectful to the deceased, said Fu Jie, director of the corpse reception station at Anhui Medical University in Hefei city in East China's Anhui province.
Thirty-seven years old Luo Jun in Anhui province, who has been an active blood donor, said that his plan to donate his body might never come true because of his wife's strong disapproval.
"I cannot donate my body without my wife signing on the contract," said Luo, "Although I have been trying to persuade her for almost three years, she still believes that the dead should be buried intact."
Even if one signed up for body donation and went through all the procedures, the donation cannot be carried out without the consent of the family, which is why many of the volunteers end up being buried after they die, Fu Jie said.
In order to solve the corpse shortage, the country is considering taking measures to encourage body donations and to ensure the realization of the volunteers' decisions.