Tomb prices make city centre flats look cheap
It seems that not even the dead can escape the mainland's inflationary pressures and real estate speculation.
With Tuesday's Ching Ming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, approaching, many mainlanders who find housing prices unaffordable are also complaining about skyrocketing tomb prices.
Guangzhou's Southern Metropolis News reported this week that small tombs in the city centre could cost between 60,000 (HK$71,000) and 130,000 yuan (HK$154,000) for a 20-year lease, while new apartments in Guangdong's provincial capital sold for 1,207 yuan a square foot, with 70 years of property rights.
It said there were cases where, instead of one coffin, five to six urns were buried in urns in a tomb.
The newspaper quoted staff from Guangzhou's cemeteries as saying that prices were likely to appreciate rapidly because the supply of burial plots was unable to meet demand.
In Changchun , the provincial capital of Jilin , an upmarket tomb could cost as much as 288,000 yuan, enough to buy a 484 sq ft city centre apartment, Changchun's City Evening News reported. Budget tombs sold for 35,000 yuan, compared to an average housing price of 650 yuan per sq ft.
The report said tomb prices in Changchun had jumped nearly 20 per cent in the past year.
But an official from Changchun's Civil Affairs Bureau, which oversees funerals and the supply of burial plots, brushed off comments that expensive tombs meant the city's residents could not afford to die.
He said prices were decided by the market and people could, for example, choose to have their ashes scattered at sea instead.
The People's Daily reported that tomb prices had jumped tenfold in the past decade in Harbin , the capital of Heilongjiang province , where tombs that used to sell for 2,700 yuan now start from 25,600 yuan and could cost as much as 228,000 yuan.
Cemetery staff said tomb prices were rising as inflation pushed up raw material costs, construction fees, and the cost of transport and labour.
Burial, a widespread tradition in China for several thousand years, has long been considered the most respectful way to handle the dead, with many believing that those who are buried will repay the living with blessings and protection.
But burials were discouraged in favour of cremation after the Communists came to power in 1949 in order to conserve farmland and eradicate superstition. Only a few cemeteries were allowed to be built in major cities such as Guangzhou, where tens of millions of people live.
Experts offered different solutions to reducing the huge inflationary pressures.
Professor He Bing, from the China University of Political Science and Law, said the authorities should increase the supply of tombs, while Yan Xiguang, deputy secretary-general of Shandong's Social Science Society, told the Shandong Economic Daily that the government should introduce restrictions to discourage people from speculating on tombs.
Dead centre of town
The price of an upmarket tomb in Changchun can get you a city centre apartment this big: 480 sq ft