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For 29-year-old Jiao Jin, it was her grandfather's funeral seven years ago that led her to enter the funeral service industry after receiving a degree in management from a university in Germany.
"When he passed away, I applied all his makeup," she said. Jiao is now a mortician in Beijing East Suburbs Funeral Home.
The profession might not appeal to everyone, but its practitioners take great pride in their ability to provide efficient and appropriate service, so the industry attracts more and more college graduates, though few with related majors.
According to Huang Qiaoquan, a public relations director of the Beijing Funeral Management Office, since 2006 the minimum requirement for recruitment has been a college degree.
Every year, students from top universities, such as Tsinghua University and Peking University, join the industry. And none of them quit.
"Last year, about 500 students applied for the five openings in the funeral industry management office, so the competition was astonishing," Huang said.
Shanghai Business Daily reported last month that 30 percent of funeral industry professionals have college degrees, compared with 15 percent in 2007. And only 15 percent of the graduates leave the industry.
Most applicants have practical reasons for starting a career in the funeral service industry. Song Jiajia could have become a history teacher after receiving a master's degree from Beijing Normal University, but she chose Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery instead.
"The pay is good, the work is not too busy, and the place is close to my home," Song said, adding that college graduates nowadays are "very practical".
"Since the job market is not in its best years, stable working conditions and a high salary are the top concerns for most graduates like me."
According to Huang, from Beijing Funeral Management Office, the average salaries in Beijing cemeteries are "higher than those of civil servants".But he also said that students' growing interest in the funeral industry could be attributed to the fierce competition in traditional majors.
"Traditionally, people discriminate against the funeral industry," said Dong Libo, deputy director of the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery. After retiring from the military in 2004, Dong found a job at the cemetery.
"Since then, I have felt isolated from my friends, and some family members of the departed have disrespectable attitudes about our work, which upset me," Dong said. "The college graduates may still be too young too realize this, but they will notice how they become isolated if the taboo around the industry lasts."
However, the funeral service industry has gone through "tremendous changes" in the last few years, according to Li Qingzhi, director of Beijing East Suburbs Funeral Home.
"In the past, there was no professional training, but now some universities in Beijing, Changsha, Chongqing and Wuhan offer mortuary science majors," Li said.
Yang Yao contributed to this story.