Chinese crematorium forced to reverse policy on handing ashes to relatives in bags after outcry

Mandy Zuo

A state-run funeral home and crematorium in central China has been forced to reverse a decision that staff would no longer transfer ashes to urns for clients who supplied their own after a public outcry.

Two managers of the funeral home were also suspended over the controversial new policy that was due to begin on Friday and municipal authorities are investigating, news website Thepaper.cn reported.

The Ningxiang Municipal Funeral Home in Hunan province announced on Wednesday that ashes would be handed over in bags to relatives of the dead if they did not buy an urn from the funeral home. They would then have to transfer the ashes to their own urns themselves.

The decision was made to avoid potential quality problems in cremation urns supplied by family members, according to the announcement.

The municipal civil affairs bureau – which oversees the funeral home – overturned the new policy the next day after a public backlash, releasing a statement saying it was inconvenient for grieving relatives and that there should be no change to the cremation service.

One of the cremation urns on sale at the funeral home has a price tag of 14,880 yuan. Photo: Weibo

Director Wu Ping and the funeral home’s Communist Party secretary Chen Luhua had been suspended and an investigation was under way, Ningxiang party boss Zhou Hui told Thepaper.cn on Friday.

Authorities were investigating the sale of the urns by the funeral home, which government purchase records showed in some cases were being bought for 6,000 yuan (US$850) and sold for nearly 15,000 yuan (US$2,100), the report said.

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Suspended director Wu told the news website there had been cases where urns supplied by clients had cracked and broken, causing disputes.

“The temperature of the ashes straight after cremation can be more than 80 degrees Celsius [176 Fahrenheit] so if the urn is not up to standard, it can break,” he was quoted as saying.

Wu said more than 11,000 bodies had been handled by the crematorium last year, and it had sold over 5 million yuan worth of urns in that time.

The cheapest cremation urns cost 200 yuan. Photo: Weibo

Among the cremation urns on sale at the funeral home is a carved wooden one priced at nearly 15,000 yuan, but staff told Thepaper.cn there were other options available and the cheapest was 200 yuan.

The government offers a subsidy of 200 yuan to cover the cost of cremation urns if the deceased is from a rural area.

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