Henan city halts grave clearing campaign

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 3:34pm

A Chinese city has halted a campaign to clear graves for farmland after the demolition of more than two million tombs sparked outrage in a country where ancestors are traditionally held in deep respect.

Zhoukou in the central province of Henan demolished the graves this year as part of a “flatten graves to return farmland” campaign, the Beijing News reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper quoted a local official as saying the campaign had stopped, after revised regulations on funeral management removed the government’s right to “use force” to “correct” the construction of graves.

Local officials were ordered to set an example by demolishing their family tombs, the 21st Century Business Herald reported.

The grave-flattening prompted an outcry on Chinese internet sites, with thousands posting messages opposing the campaign.

“Burying the dead has always been a sign of our level of civilization, this campaign shows our country has lost its moral foundations,” wrote one user of Sina Weibo, a website similar to Twitter.

The 21st Century Business Herald, however, questioned whether two million tombs were actually flattened, citing the city government as saying in September that just over 400,000 had been demolished.

China’s government encourages cremation, citing a shortage of land for burials, but many in the countryside continue to construct tombs due to traditional beliefs.

Despite its efforts, the government of densely-populated Henan has only been able to achieve a rate of 50 per cent, the 21st Century Business Herald reported.

Zhoukou city officials could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.