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Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo probably knew he would have to answer questions this week about how 6,000 dead and bloated pigs ended up floating in a river in Shanghai.
So at press conference on Wednesday morning, held to mark the close of a National People’s Congress meeting, Li and vice-ministers Jiang Li and Dou Yupei arrived prepared for criticism - a bit too prepared, some might say.
After a Time-Weekly reporter asked whether a rumour about dead pigs being dumped in the river because incinerating them was too expensive was true, an uncomfortable Li responded by explaining the different types of funeral services available for people. This topic was not even remotely related to the reporter’s question.
Like a news reader using a teleprompter script, Li ranted on about the importance of protecting the basic livelihood of people and developing social services.
“There are two types of funeral services; the basic funeral service and the selective funeral service. The former includes body transportation, preservation, cremation and the placing of ashes, at a price which the government sets,'' he explained.
"The overall cost is reasonable…the service is aimed at providing low-income groups with access to funeral services,” Li added.
Li said the more “market-oriented” selective funeral services included a choice of different types of caskets, the rent for funeral halls, equipment and even “luxurious funeral ceremonies”.
Vice-minister Dou said the funeral business was best left as a service provided by the government - free from market distortions.
“Like weddings, many of [the rich] have a tendency to want to make funerals opulent. This distorts the real price of them,” he said. Dou said an example of this was when some customers were willing to pay up to 30,000 yuan (HK$37,400) for an urn. But most funeral parlours offered one for 100 yuan, he said.
Last year, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) said people should have equal access to basic burial and funeral services by the end of 2015.
The reporter’s question about pigs was left unanswered.