People pay tribute to their loved ones at a public cemetery in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, on Tuesday. JI HAIXIN / FOR CHINA DAILY
While millions of visitors from neighboring cities swarmed into Suzhou, Jiangsu province, during the holiday to sweep tombs, people are finding it increasingly hard to buy new tombs there following a policy banning non-locals from buying spaces in public cemeteries.
“Those who are not Suzhou residents must get approval from the civil affairs authorities before they can buy a tomb here,” said Zhang Jihong, deputy head of the civil affairs bureau in Suzhou.
The problem has been exacerbated by the aging population and urbanization, which has caused a shortage of tomb spaces in Suzhou and sent prices soaring.
The civil affairs bureau estimated that 6 million people from other cities visited during the holiday to pay tribute to relatives buried in Suzhou. A large number of visitors came from Shanghai, where a tomb costs on average twice the price in Suzhou.
As a result, many have chosen to bury their departed in Suzhou instead.
The trend has sparked online discussion, with accusations that the policy is pushing non-locals out by applying rules similar to those for buying houses.
“After the house purchase restrictions for the living, officials are turning their eyes to the dead,” said Youming, a user of social media platform Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter.
The Suzhou civil affairs bureau's Zhang, however, said the policy was not exactly new but a reiteration due to the shortage of tomb places.
“Suzhou had a similar policy in 2004, but it was not well implemented,” he said.
“We are not keeping all the non-locals outside. Those with spouses buried in Suzhou can still use the same grave after they die.”
Gao Feng, deputy dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences in Soochow University, said the policy was a consequence of unbalanced supply and demand.
“There is no other way than restricting tomb purchasing,” said Gao. “The policy is not targeting people from particular regions.”
The city reportedly aims to bring down the price of the tombs, the average price for which soared to 120,000 yuan (,420) per square meter in 2016.
The policy is also targeting those who buy tombs years ahead, leaving the land unused and adding to the tomb shortage.