Cemetery space limited, Chinese turn to tree burials

Kevin McGeary , October 29, 2013 1:00pm

In China, overcrowding is not just a problem for the living. While the United States has about 50,000 cemeteries, China has about 3,000 and experts predict that the country will run out of currently allocated space for burying people within six years.

Families attend the ceremony, image courtesy of Nanfang Daily

For this reason, the government has started subsidising new forms of “eco-burial” such as scattering ashes in the sea, inlaying urns in walls, and “tree burials,” that is scattering or burying ashes under trees.

Last week, Dongguan held its second large-scale tree burial ceremony. 66 urns of ashes were laid to rest and over 90 people attended, Nanfang Daily reports.

At around 10 a.m. on Friday (October 25), the ceremony commenced on Chayuan Mountain. Bouquets were laid, dirges were played, then three minutes of silence were observed as families celebrated the lives of their loved ones.

The number of families choosing tree burials has increased in the city since last year and subsidies to encourage the approach will increase next year, according to the Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau.

Asking families to forego the option of having a tomb with a gravestone flies in the face of ancient tradition. However, as a 2011 op-ed in Shenzhen Daily pointed out, the traditional option is rapidly ceasing to make financial sense. And, as always, developed coastal regions such as the Pearl River Delta are leading the way in embracing the new.

Kevin McGeary

China hand, bawdy balladeer.