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Government / Local politics

Chinese officials are buying corpses to ensure they meet their cremation quotas

Halloween isn’t over yet – today, the BBC reported that two “funeral management” officials in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have been charged with buying corpses from a graverobber in order to fulfil their local government duties. 

This might require a bit of explanation. China, like many countries around the world, is running out of burial space. In a bid to encourage residents to choose cremation over palatial family tombs, the government’s introduced something called a “cremation quota”, and officials responsible for enforcing it.

This doesn’t sound like such a terrible plan, but it’s had a couple of unfortunate consequences:

  1. Many Chinese people don’t want to be cremated, and are avoiding it at all costs. There were reports of elderly people committing suicide, purely so they could be buried before the burial regulations came in. Now, some families are burying their loved ones in secret. 
  2. The policy is leaving funeral management officials with a shortfall on their cremation balance sheets.

For most people, this situation would, at worst, result in a performance review. For those willing to go the extra mile, though, like our friends in Guangdong, it has the potential to produce some rather gruesome results.

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The pair were arrested last week after the graverobber, from the neighbouring Guanxi province, was caught and admitted to stealing and selling on corpses from local villages. One of the Guangdong officials apparenly paid 3000 yuan (about £300) per corpse; the other scored a better price of 1500 yuan (£150). They plaintively said they only bought the corpses to “ensure government quotas were met”.

A successful policy all round, then.

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