Hidden costs of death
As millions paused to honor their ancestors during the annual Tomb-Sweeping Festival, the increasing cost of cemetery plots and funerals has become a focus of national anger. One newspaper report in the northeastern city of Harbin complained that plots were now costing more per square meter than luxury apartments.
The subject was taken up at the National People's Congress, China's annual parliament, at which delegates complained of urns costing more than television sets and tombs more than houses.
The state will open subsidized cemeteries this year that will sell urns and plaques for a maximum of 4,238 yuan ($620). A Shanghai garden of rest will offer "eco-tombs" for $205.
In the most sought-after graveyards such as Beijing's Babaoshan Cemetery, plots start at a minimum of 70,000 yuan a square meter for 20 years, after which the family of the dead must pay a renewal fee or face the indignity of having to give up the plot.
Many of those paying their respects said they would prefer something far simpler when their time came.
"I want my ashes scattered over the ocean," said engineer Tang Qinghui, 47, who was repainting the Chinese characters on his grandfather's tomb in gold paint. "But we do this because our parents' generation expected it."
His wife, Liu Shaofen, agreed. "I have told our children that they must not spend money on us like this when we go," she said. "It is better that they spend the money on the living than the dead."
Traditions die hard in China. The lease on her own father's grave in Babaoshan is due for renewal in three years, but there was no question of allowing it to lapse. "For Chinese people, this is the way we show respect for our parents," she said.