It is easy to assume that once we pass away, a plot in a local cemetery will be reserved for us. However, for the inhabitants of a particular Chinese province, this is already not the case.

Burial Now Illegal in Chinese Province

On June 1st, all in-ground burials in the Anhui province of eastern China were banned. The traditional funeral as we know it, is now illegal. The public’s response has been gut wrenching and heart breaking. In the last few weeks of May, up to a dozen desperate elderly people have committed suicide in order to be legally buried before the June 1st deadline.

Under strict religious and spiritual beliefs, these individuals chose to force death upon themselves in order to avoid cremation or another other type of alternative burial. Meanwhile, local authorities have been travelling around the countryside impounding coffins and smashing tombs, a boorishly drastic and oppressive measure to enforce that the government’s message is understood.

In the last few weeks of May, up to a dozen desperate elderly people have committed suicide in order to be legally buried before the June 1st deadline.

Too Many People, Too Little Space

This problem is not a recent one whatsoever in a China where purchasing a plot in a cemetery might cost you more than buying an apartment! The most recent all-out prohibition on burials was introduced simply because there isn’t enough space. To understand the gravity of the situation, compare the size of the Anhui province with that of Canada.

In the Great White North there are approximately 3.41 persons per km2. However, the Anhui province is home to a whopping 430 persons per km2, fitting almost 60 million people into an area smaller than New York State.

The Population Density of Canada Vs. Anhui Province, China.

The Population Density of Canada Vs. Anhui Province, China.


With an average of 9 Million more bodies to bury each year, the Chinese have been looking to sea burials as a solution. In some cases, the government is offering financial compensation to families agreeing to lay their loves one’s to rest at sea. However, in a country that has long standing traditions of ancestral worship and of entombment, the new laws are a shocking blow to many of the older generations.

While traditions differ throughout cultures, the value of burial is worldwide.  Those who are close to the end of their life, find comfort in knowing exactly where they will be resting for centuries to come. Furthermore, it is a relief to the family of the departed to know that that their loved ones will always be nearby, lightening the heartache caused by grief. While it is natural to assume that there will be a burial plot waiting for us, the future may not hold this luxury, even for those of us in the western world.

There have already been several cases in North America where human remains have been moved for sake of land development, as touched upon in our last blog post. There has also been lawsuits filed against certain Cemeteries and their associated umbrella company for illegally disposing of human remains and overlapping burial plots, in order to fit more bodies into a smaller piece of land.

Will There Be a Place For Us?

It’s hard to say. Like in China, North American governments might need to be stricter on burial regulations; cemeteries may only be able to expand even further outside highly developed areas and the price of plots is only going to rise. The global population is projected to reach just under 10 billion in 2050. Moreover, by 2030, the aging population of baby boomers will cause an increase in the number of Americans over 65 by approximately 75%. Cemeteries will be packed and it certainly might be a good time for job-searchers to consider work in the funeral industry, or more importantly, to seek alternative burials.

Ultimately, will we be forced to look towards other methods such as cremation and sea burials? Will we still have a home waiting for us six feet underground once we have passed away? Tradition is the only option for a local Chinese elder who was quoted by the Beijing News, saying: “I’ve had a hard life, and when I’m dead I’d like to sleep somewhere protected from the rain — inside a coffin.”

“All of life is a dream walking, all of death is a going home.” -Chinese Proverb

By Matthew Dessner


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