China will crack down on cemetery speculators and funeral-related fraud in a three-month campaign starting this month to address the most acute problems in the sector, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on July 2.
The crackdown will cover all funeral parlors, cemeteries, morgues, rural nonprofit burial sites and ash storage facilities affiliated with religious sites. And it will address issues the public is most concerned about that have received a lot of media attention, the ministry said.
The move came after nine departments, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs, National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Public Security, released an action plan last month for punishing misconduct in the sector.
In China, burying bodies has been banned in the most populous areas. The only exceptions are for 10 ethnic minorities. Most urban residents opt for cremation after death, with their ashes interred in spaces purchased in cemeteries.
Despite the government’s effort to encourage ecological burials — encouraging the scattering of ashes rather than buying burial sites — demand for cemetery space runs high. There has been a surge in cemetery prices over the past few years, with some spaces in Shanghai reportedly reaching 300,000 yuan ($44,800).
The planned crackdown will focus on the rectification of 10 violations, including eight related to the construction and operation of cemeteries and two related to funeral services and the sale of funeral items.
The authorities will target unauthorized cemeteries and those with incomplete legal documents, cemetery managers who expand construction beyond what was approved, people who sell graves without asking for proof of death, grave relocation and the building of oversized graves.
National standards require that graves for cremated remains be less than 1 square meter. Graves must not exceed 4 sq m for single graves and 6 sq m for joint burials.
Overcharging for graves will also be targeted, as well as misconduct such as profiting from rural nonprofit cemeteries or charging fees for keeping cremated remains at unauthorized religious sites, the plan said.
In addition, misconduct in funeral-related services, including lack of transparency in price, coercive sales or monopolies will be targeted, it said.
Yang Anrong, a former cemetery manager in Hubei province, said the crackdown will ensure that related policies and regulations will be carried out, but she also noted that some problems are historical leftovers.
“Some cemeteries lack necessary documents because they were established when there was no requirement for such documents,” she said.
Yang said the nature of a cemetery requires it to be in place for a long time, and the lack of knowledge of the industry has led many speculators to enter the sector for quick money.
“But in fact, most projects require several decades to recover the cost. So many of them resort to high prices,” she said.