Extravagant tomb replica of Temple of Heaven appears in Hubei

Luxury tomb criticised by local residents for taking up valuable land

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 6:21pm

A unlikely tomb, styled as a replica of the famous Temple of Heaven, has appeared in Hubei province and is generating controversy among residents opposed to such excess.

The still unfinished tomb, located in the Xinzhou district of Hubei's Wuhan city began construction in 2009 and is scheduled for completion next year. It spans an area of over 26 hectares, is planned to house up to 400,000 funeral urns, and features a towering pagoda, a Buddhist statue and a courtyard reminiscent of central Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, which was originally built during China’s Ming dynasty. An investment of roughly 800 million yuan (HK$1 billion), the tomb has been designed to promote tourism as China’s first “ecological cemetery,” according to statements made to the People’s Daily by the project’s general manager, Peng Yijian.

Peng told reporters the tomb was completely legal, had gone through a rigorous approval process, and was being built on land that had formerly been under used. Neighbouring farmers disagreed, claiming the project’s construction is stealing valuable arable resources and disrupting crop irrigation.

“[My fields] will completely dry out and die,” villager Wang Hongli told reporters, pointing out to his cotton fields which were suffering from a year’s drought and had been cut off from irrigation canals because of the tomb’s construction. Wang also said the tomb had taken away at least seven subdivisions of the hectare of land owned by him and his family.

Wang’s troubles are shared by other farmers in the region, who said that while they had been compensated for giving up their land at a rate of roughly 16,600 yuan (HK$ 21,000) per mu (1/16 of a hectare), farming was ultimately more important to them than money.

“How can that money replace my land?” asked Wu Xiumei, another villager. “I was unwilling to sign away my land at first, but then the [developers] forcibly went ahead with the construction anyway… At that time, my husband and I went to our fields to try to [stop them]…but it was useless.”

Wu and her fellow farmers claimed that hooligans hired by the developers had been sent to force them into signing away their land. But according to general manager Peng Yijian, the desire of Xinzhou’s villagers to cling to their property had been “unreasonable”.

“We can meet reasonable requests, but we can not afford unreasonable demands,” Peng said, noting that construction companies working to build the Temple of Heaven tomb helped villagers install new irrigation canals to water their crops. Peng also said work on the tomb had been postponed many times to cater to local demand, and he was afraid the Xinzhou local government was about to stop supporting the project entirely.

Online Chinese commentators tended to side with Xinzhou locals in the debate over the tomb’s construction, and many questioned the logic behind making a replica of the Temple of Heaven.

“There are so many living Chinese people that don’t have actual houses,” one Weibo user wrote. “Why do the deceased need such an extravagant tomb?”