Elderly woman's body dug up for cremation by Chinese government without family's consent

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Amid sweeping funeral reforms to phase out ground burials, authorities in a remote town in southern China have dug up the body of an elderly woman for cremation after her son gave her a traditional burial, the Chuncheng Evening News reported on Tuesday (Nov 2).

A villager surnamed Yang from Datang township of Pingtang county, Guizhou province, southern China, said his mother’s body was removed from her grave and sent to a funeral home soon after her family buried her early last month.

Calling it an insult to the deceased, Yang demanded the return of her body, which he believed is still being kept at the funeral home, and for the family to be compensated financially, the report said.

“I’m OK if they took her away from home, but why did they dig her up after we buried her?” he said.

Ground burial has long been a tradition in most rural areas across China, but a drive to replace it with cremation has swept the country in the past decade as the government encouraged more land-saving, eco-friendly funerals.

The town mayor, a man surnamed Huang, told the Chuncheng Evening News that government workers notified Yang of the new policy on three occasions before the burial and that he refused to comply.

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More than 30 police officers were sent to remove the corpse from the gravesite on Oct 3 upon Huang’s orders.

“As per regulations, after the village committee issued a death certificate, the funeral home cremated Yang’s mother,” he said.

Extreme measures against ground burial are not rare in China as local authorities push for radical funeral reforms.

In similar cases in adjacent Yunnan province’s Weixin county, southwest China, at least 11 dead bodies have been exhumed since October 23, according to local media reports.

In Jiangxi province, in order to force families to cremate the dead, tens of thousands of coffins that senior residents prepared for themselves in advance were seized, smashed or burned by authorities in 2017 and 2018.

It’s a custom in rural China for people to have tailor-made coffins when they reach a certain age and then store them at home, believing they will bring longevity and good fortune.

According to data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, over 5.55 million dead bodies were cremated last year, accounting for about 56 per cent of all deaths.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.