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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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Reader Comments

  • RW

    Your right to a degree. You mentioned “the wandering Jew”.

    I elaborate that the Jewish people, historically have tended to migrate almost exclusively to locations that are economically and culturally vibrant already. I would speculate that Jews have thrived in these places and have often improved the bounds of their economies and knowledge base.

    You can also ask; how many massive entertainment conglomerates, Nobel winners or billionaires has Isreal developed? If Jews are so capable, why isn’t Tel Aviv the Rome of our time?

    Jews are successful because they value education, maintain a strong social cohesive, they actively monitor and have a good sense for Zeitgeist wherever they are and they carefully choose the places they settle and congregate themselves heavily in these choice locations.

    But most importantly (haulocaust increased the importance of this aspect), they actually designed their culture for success. They not only attend Harvard, they use what they learned to better the group as a whole. With as much, they studied intricate networking systems, adapted to it and in many cases improved upon them. (See how Japan acquired Aegis warships and made them better).

    Of course there is nothing wrong with any of this. It’s when you elaborately gain disproportionate power in any society where you would stand out, you must take care when attempting to make a society better (Civil Rights movement) and rewriting that society all together (mass immigration). Ask blacks in China, Mexico, Philippines or India how much opportunity they have? Go to businesses owned by their American diaspora and see how many blacks they hire. Go to Silicon Valley and see how many East or South Asian tech workers wish they could work with more black people. California might work as a state, but as a nation, I think your rolling the nuclear dice here. I hope we can succeed as a tolerant pluralistic superpower but at this stage in human societal development, it’s a pipe dream.

    And if Jews really are the icon for success, they would see that fundamental human successes happen over generations. Just look at the rest of the planet? Are we ready?