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China thinks dead people are bad for the economy

According to The Economist, China’s government is smashing up coffins and refusing to let bodies be buried.

What it means: The Chinese government has decided it wants dead people to be cremated rather than buried. This is already common in Chinese cities, but unpopular in the countryside where fancy coffins are status symbols and many think that destroying your body is disrespectful to your ancestors. So the government is trying to twist people’s arms. Sometimes, it does this by offering them money or promising to cover the cost of their funeral if people agree to be cremated. Sometimes, it does this by confiscating coffins (in China its common to buy your coffin before you die) or just refusing to let bodies be buried.

The government believes burials are bad for the economy. It is worried that land that should be farmed is being used as graveyards instead (China has 25 percent of the world’s population to feed and just 7 percent of its farmland). It also thinks that social pressure to blow their savings on lavish funerals keeps many rural families poor. It wants to increase tourism in its countryside and thinks tombstones creep people out and put them off visiting. And some people say the government wants to sell burial land to developers for a bit of extra cash.

It’s true that dead bodies aren’t the best way to make money from land, and reducing burials might therefore push up China’s economic growth (make it richer, basically). But economic growth isn’t the only thing people value, as the reaction of rural Chinese has shown. Many of them are furious. Some are guarding the graves of their relatives to stop government officials digging them up. And some killed themselves in order to be buried before a government ban came into effect.

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