Opinion / Blog

Poor funeral directors

By teamkrejados ( Updated: 2015-04-07 18:37

In a recently released report it was disclosed that funeral workers in China are among the most psychologically distressed groups, with nearly half the workers suffering some form of depression. This report, generated by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, concludes that 21.3 percent suffer from severe psychological problems.


I always believed that death was an incontrovertible part of life in China. For momentous occasions such as the birth of a child, a marriage and, of course all of the major holidays like Spring Festival, people burn paper money so their dead will have money to spend in the afterlife. 

Of course, these days people burn facsimiles of iPhones, luxury cars and jewelry so that their ancestors can enjoy status in the afterlife as well. That is a relatively new trend distorting the reverence of celebrating one's ancestors, and enterprising merchants are cashing in on it: Apple gift packs including an iPhone, an iPad, ear buds and that nifty watch that Apple came out with, all made of cardboard, are available for more durable burning. These sell for 10 yuan.

Another relatively new trend for death in China is burial at sea. As land is scarce and population is plentiful, the question of where to bury the dead has stymied the government, and the problem has grown exponentially when more people are dying than are being born. Cremation became the law several years ago as a way to deter those who would bury their loved ones in their fields, ostensibly so that their spirit can watch over the crops. Now, even finding room for cremains is a challenge. Scattering ashes at sea has become a satisfying alternative for those with little money to buy a plot. In some parts of the country, the government offers cash incentives to those who select that option.

Donating bodies to science or universities has come to the forefront, with the stipulation that the receiving organization must be an approved institution: a medical school or an establishment above municipal level – say, a state run laboratory. In Guangzhou, relatives need not consent to donation as long as the arrangements have been made in advance by the person wishing to contribute to science. Previously, donation could be halted by a relative who didn’t agree to such a disposal of their loved one.

I've long ago determined that I would donate my body and all of my organs. I don't wish to be interred or burned and then interred when my organs and corpse could help others. Imagine my joy at finding out I could donate! But then, another article: Foreigners who die in China can expect to pay a hefty price.

Assuming loved ones back home would like a physical form returned to them so that they might perform their funeral rites, preparing a body for transportation carries a price tag of 7,500 yuan (about $1,200), and that does not include paperwork, transportation and storage fees, nor does it count the price of the funeral in the country of destination. The grand total when an expat dies in China can amount to 80,000 yuan!

And then, there's the small matter of price gouging. While funeral fees are fixed by the government for Chinese nationals at 300 yuan, it jumps substantially for foreigners, to an average of 8,000 yuan. And still there’s the necessary paperwork,with fees, contacting the embassy and shipping the cremains. And the small matter of storing the body prior to cremation: the cost for Chinese is 3 yuan per day;for expats, 20 yuan per day.

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