Eco-friendly burials save space, money

Updated 2017-04-02 10:30:25 Xinhua

Liang Zhizhong finally laid his wife to rest, eight years after her death.

Liang, 73, kept the urn at home after his wife Chen Jing died of lung cancer in 2009, as he was too poor to afford the cost, at least 18,000 yuan (2,615 U.S. dollars).

Tomb Sweeping Day falls on April 4 this year, and the family finally has a tomb to sweep, a 0.25-square-meter lot beside a flowerbed covered with inscribed marble.

“With the mountainous and riverlet, I think she'll like here,” said Liang, a retired colliery worker from the city of Liupanshui in southwest China's Guizhou Province.

Liang's monthly 2,600-yuan pension is the only income for his family of three, after his son lost the ability to work following surgery to remove a brain tumor.

“We spent almost every penny of savings to treat my wife, and my son's disease made our situation even worse,” Liang said.

Seven other poor families buried loved ones by the same flowerbed at Xianhe mountain. In Chinese, Xianhe means crane, a bird which is traditionally believed to fly the deceased to heaven.

The flowerbed tomb is part of ecological burials advocated by the local government. Degradable urns are used that decompose and nourish the flowers. Poor families like Liang's are offered flowerbed tombs free of charge, and regular families pay less than 4,000 yuan as a 20-year administration fee.

Chinese tradition holds that ashes should be buried underground in urns, and fancy tombs are often built to show filial piety from the living. However, the custom has put a strain on the country's land resources.

The annual cost of all the urns, tombs and burial rituals in Liang's home district of Liuzhi is estimated to total 68 million yuan, with tombs covering a total area of 6.7 hectares.

“Eco-friendly burials, such as flowerbeds, tree and lawn tombs, not only bring down family burial costs but also saves on land resources,” said Qin Caike, deputy head of the civil affairs bureau of Liupanshui.

Local resident Dong Fuqin said that her brother was buried there according to his will, although the family is rich enough to afford a stand-alone tomb.

“He requested us to save the land space for our offspring,” she said while sweeping the tomb.

Chi Xiping, chairman with the cemetery on Xianhe mountain, said 800 eco-friendly tombs had been built, each less than one square meter in size, with a quarter of them used so far.

“More and more people are abandoning traditional thoughts about seeking stand-alone tombs, for eco-friendly burials,” he said.

Before leaving the cemetery, Liang signed his name on a banner to support eco-friendly burials.

“After my death bury me here, too,” he said to his son.

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