Foreigners' cemeteries undergo transformation in China

Foreigners' cemeteries undergo transformation in China

Fallen leaves return to their roots, according to an old Chinese saying, referring to most people's wish to be buried in their place of origin.

Regardless of how far one may have wandered, it's much easier to achieve that wish these days than, say, a century ago because of the vast improvements in transportation and logistics.

Years ago, China had cemeteries that were exclusively for foreigners, mainly in cities that had foreign concessions, areas ceded by China and administered by foreign powers.

But that's history. In recent years, China has restricted the burial of foreigners. Simultaneously, cremation has become the more common option, and international shipping of bodies has become more practical.

Cemeteries that were formerly for foreigners only are now open to Chinese people who wish to find eternal rest in an international community.

Beijing Expatriates Cemetery, formerly the capital's largest cemetery for expatriates alone, has interred nearly 5,000 Chinese since 1996.

Shanghai Wanguo Cemetery, which holds the graves of more than 600 foreigners, is now part of the Soong Ching-Ling Mausoleum Park, where Soong Ching-ling, whose husband Dr Sun Yat-sen was the founding father of the first republic of China, lies buried together with other notable Chinese.

"It is nearly impossible for a foreigner who has no relative in China to have a body buried here now," said Wilfried Verbruggen, who operates a body repatriation service in Beijing.

In 2008, the Ministry of Civil Affairs released a regulation on the management of foreigners' funerals and interment that largely banned their being buried in China.

But there are exceptions.

Xiao Chenglong, deputy director of a centre that studies funeral development and interment, said, "It looks like more foreigners want to be buried in China.

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