China / Society

Shanghai promotes burials at sea

By Shi Yingying in Shanghai (China Daily) Updated: 2012-12-24 00:29

A shortage of land in Shanghai has prompted the municipal government to offer a larger subsidy to promote sea burials.

The local authority has announced a fivefold increase, from 400 yuan ($64) to 2,000 yuan, in subsidies to encourage Shanghai residents to consider the sea option.

Starting next year, Shanghai will subsidize families choosing a sea burial by 1,000 yuan and the another 1,000 yuan will go to pay service providers to cover costs such as ship tickets and insurance, Lu Chunling, director of funeral management under Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, said on Tuesday.

Shanghai promotes burials at sea

A woman scatters ashes of a loved one mixed with flower petals at a sea burial last year off Shanghai in the East China Sea. The city has made the last Saturday of March public memorial day for those buried at sea. HU LINGXIANG / FOR CHINA DAILY

"Those opting for burial at sea will save 1 square meter of land in Shanghai, and that would cost about 24,000 yuan if it was a burial plot," said Lu.

With an increasingly elderly population and 110,000 deaths annually, Shanghai authorities and cemetery operators have been promoting sea burials since 1991.

However, most people still shun the option because it is traditionally believed that the soul can find peace only when the body is buried on land.

According to Wu Xiaogang, a manager at the Shanghai Funeral and Interment Service Center, only around 2,000 people were buried at sea in 2012, about 1.8 percent of all burials.

"Sea burials in Shanghai have increased by 5 to 8 percent each year since 1991," said Lu. The local government offered a 200 yuan subsidy for each sea burial from 2002 and raised the amount to 400 yuan in 2007.

Lu said that even though the new subsidy applies from 2013, those who held sea burials in 2012 could still claim the money.

"It's not all about money, there are cases of people opting for a sea burial without claiming anything," said Lu. "We're just sending the signal that it's the most environmentally friendly way of burial and our government is encouraging residents to do it."

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