Beijing: With burial sites in most Chinese cities including Beijing reporting full, running a cemetery has emerged as a booming business in the most populous nation.
"Death has become a rather expensive business," state media reported citing high profit margins of Chinese cemetery companies.
For example, the Lingshan cemetery reported a gross profit margin of 83.3 per cent in 2015. It aims to make 100 million yuan (over 15,000,000 USD) in profits this year, the company said.
Fu Shou Yuan, which owns cemeteries in several Chinese provinces, has also reported a profit. Its average grave price was 80,211 yuan (about 12,340 US dollars) in 2015.
The average cost of a funeral service in Beijing was 70,000 yuan (about 10,700 US dollars) in 2015, Xinhua news agency reported.
Traditional Chinese beliefs dictate that burial is the proper way to handle a dead body. In order to show filial piety, many Chinese invest heavily in their parents' tombs.
Most cemeteries in Chinese cities are full, so burials in neighboring cities have become popular. About 80 per cent of plots in cemeteries in Hebei cities surrounding Beijing are sold to Beijing residents.
Larger tomb space and lower prices are the biggest draws. Chen said the Lingshan cemetery has 30,000 grave plots, and a third have been sold.
Qiao Kuanyuan, an expert with the China Funeral Association, said grave plots have become expensive due to land scarcity, and government calls for eco-friendly alternatives have been countered by old beliefs.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs and eight other ministries jointly issued a circular about eco-burials and efficient use of burial sites in February. It called on people to support group burials of family members in a single grave site.
Wang Hongjie, director of the Shanghai Funeral Industry Association, said the eastern metropolis Shanghai has been promoting group burials since 2010.
But not all accept the new methods. Cemetery managers complain group burials drain their profits, and it is difficult to add chambers without damaging the existing tomb structure.
Hang Juan, an official of the Nanjing funeral reform and management department, said more campaigns will be organised to persuade the public to switch to environment-friendly burials, such as burying ashes under trees or scattering them into the sea.