China Pays Citizens Who Choose Watery Grave

There's just not enough land to bury everyone
By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2013 9:43 AM CDT
China Pays Citizens Who Choose Watery Grave

With land stretched increasingly thin amongst its 1.35 billion citizens, China is running out of places to bury its dead. The solution? Sea burials, and several cities are going to great lengths to make the option an attractive one. Several offer cash incentives—from $160 in Guangzhou to $1,290 in Wenzhou—and all-expenses-paid boat trips to citizens who scatter their relatives' ashes at sea, the Washington Post reports. Unfortunately, the plan has failed to make much of a splash. Shanghai recently upped its subsidy to $320 and has been pushing the burials since 1991. But one funeral center's manager says burials at sea accounted for only 1.8% of burials last year, according to China Daily.

If officials can't make this idea float, they're going to have to come up with something better. Even a cheap grave in Beijing can cost $16,000 (and that's just to bury ashes; cremation is mandatory in cities), and many provinces are expected to run out of burial room in the next five to 10 years. Meanwhile, the country's annual death toll is expected to reach 20 million by 2025, more than double what it was in 2011. But critics worry such schemes may also wash away centuries of tradition. “Saving land shouldn't be the deciding factor for how someone chooses to be buried," says a sociologist. "China's land belongs to all Chinese. Why shouldn’t they get one square meter to lay down in when they die?” (More China stories.)

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