China has asked their citizens to consider “eco-burials” for their late relatives as the nation runs out of graveyards.
Traditional Chinese beliefs dictate that “burial is the correct way to treat the dead.” Sons and daughters often invest much of their savings into their parents’ funeral and headstone. The price of funerals in Beijing has skyrocketed to almost 70,000 yuan ($107,996.36) since land has become scarce.
The Chinese government has suggested families use “eco-friendly alternatives,” such as “burying ashes under trees or scattering them in the sea.” The Ministry of Civil Affairs told the public these options “saves land, reduces funeral costs, and is less destructive to the environment.”
“We hope more people will understand eco-burials through the events,” stated civil affair official Hu Lizhon from Jinhua, Zhejiang.
The government claimed “46 percent of burials in Beijing were eco-friendly” in 2015. They hope “to increase that to 50 percent by 2020.”
Hang Juan, the publicity officer for the Nanjing funeral reform and management department, told the media that the department will organize campaigns “to persuade the public not to cling to mianzi, or face, when planning funeral services.”
The news comes as China celebrates Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day). The tradition began at around 476 BC. From TravelChinaGuide:
It is said that the Qingming Festival was originally held to commemorate a loyal man living in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), named Jie Zitui. Jie cut a piece of meat from his own leg in order to save his hungry lord who was forced to go into exile when the crown was in jeopardy. The lord came back to his position nineteen years later, and forgot Jie Zitui but later felt ashamed and decided to reward him. However, Jie had blocked himself up in a mountain with his mother. In order to find Jie, the lord ordered that the mountain should be set on fire. Later Jie was found dead with his mother. In order to commemorate Jie, the lord ordered that the day Jie died was Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival – the day that only cold food could be eaten.
The second year, when the lord went to the mountain to sacrifice to Jie, he found willows revived, so he gave instructions that the day after Hanshi Festival was to be Qingming Festival. Later, the two festivals were combined as one.
On this day, people clean tombs and headstones of their loved ones while burning “fake currency and offer wine and food for the departed souls.” People do this to ensure the dead do not lack food and money in the afterlife. They also take this opportunity to clean the area, pull out weeds and place fresh soil on the grave to show love and care for the departed.
Tomb-Sweeping Day often falls in April, as winter dies away and spring heals the land from the cold. The people use the day as an excuse to stay outside and enjoy nature.