Outrage As Chinese Authorities Ban Coffin Burials, Says It’s Strictly Cremation Henceforth
A campaign banning people in a southeast China province from burying their dead that has seen coffins smashed and exhumed, all to preserve land resources has stirred anger and resentment among locals, with even state media describing it as “barbaric and unpopular”.
Under a “zero burial” policy introduced about six months ago, authorities in rural regions of Jiangxi province have waged war on the traditional practice, going so far as to seize or destroy coffins that many poor families have spent their lives saving up to buy.
The Jiangxi government’s aim is to make cremation the sole approved method of disposing of people’s remains. Intended as a way to save land and to discourage extravagant burial ceremonies, authorities in many cities across the province have set a deadline of September for becoming “cremation only”.
In photographs shared on Chinese social media, officials were seen entering villages in the cities of Ganzhou, Jian and Yichun and forcibly removing coffins from people’s homes.
Huge numbers of the boxes were then put into piles and smashed by excavators, with many elderly residents who tried to prevent the destruction by lying inside the coffins were dragged away.
Since the zero-burial policy was introduced, owning or making a coffin has been banned, and officials in many parts of Jiangxi have spent the past six months confiscating those already in existence.
A government appeal for people to surrender their coffins voluntarily yielded more than 5,800 from 24 villages and townships in Gaoan county.
Some authorities offered about 2,000 yuan (US$290) per coffin as compensation.
But not everyone was ready to sell.
A 29-year-old man from a remote village in Jian who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal said officials confiscated two coffins from the home of his grandparents, both of whom are in their 70s, on Sunday.
“These coffins had been stored in ancestral halls and had been with my grandparents for more than 30 years, as they were made by carpenters using wood grown from our own land,” he said.
There is a long tradition in rural China for people to have tailor-made coffins, which are then stored at home in the hope of bringing longevity and good fortune.
The villager also said that it took poor people many years to save the 5,000 yuan or more the boxes cost to make, so the 2,000 yuan compensation was not even fair from a financial perspective.
He said that as well as banning coffins and burials, the local authorities were blocking all the associated rituals.
“It is the worst in Jian,” he said. “Not only are they confiscating coffins, but they’re also banning local burial traditions. No coffins, tombstones or paper money are allowed.”
In an extreme example of the new restrictions and their enforcement, the Yiyang county government said in April that it had exhumed a body that had been buried against the rules of the cremation-only policy.