Guangzhou's Elite Cemetery Plans Spark Chinese Ire

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People walk through a cemetery in Shanghai on Tomb Sweeping Day, April 4, 2013.
People walk through a cemetery in Shanghai on Tomb Sweeping Day, April 4, 2013.

Plans by authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong to build a cemetery reportedly reserved for officials and war heroes have sparked satire and anger on China's Internet in recent days.

In an era where sky-high land prices put a traditional burial plot far beyond the means of most people, a common joke circulates that regular folk "can't afford to die."

According to recent media reports, the Guangzhou municipal government has earmarked 620 million yuan (U.S. $100 million) for the construction of a new "revolutionary cemetery" in the city's Fushan district, which will begin in June.

While calls to the Guangzhou municipal civil affairs bureau went unanswered during office hours, the bureau responded to online criticisms via its account on the popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo, denying claims that the government planned to create an elitist cemetery.

"The Fushan cemetery is a public cemetery," it said, before adding: "But it will have the honor of burying individuals who have made a special contribution to their country."

But the attempt at clarification didn't hold much water with local residents.

One resident of Guangzhou surnamed Zhang told RFA that the whole idea of such a division is basically wrong.

"I don't believe it's acceptable to have a section of the cemetery for regular folk and a section for officials," he said. "Officials shouldn't be allowed any sort of special treatment in cemeteries, regardless of how much of the space they are given."

"Everyone should be treated the same," Zhang said.

Netizen backlash

Meanwhile, online comments hit out at yet another area of life in which those who hold public office are given special power and privileges.

Microblog user @geyanxingju commented in one post: "Even death is subject to special privileges; why bother letting us live at all?"

Another commentator quipped: "When the earthquake came, we let the officials go ahead [of the rescue teams] ... When planes are overbooked, officials board first ... So we should let them die first, too!"

A tweet reporting a man-on-the-street interview on the topic allegedly conducted by state broadcaster CCTV was retweeted thousands of times, amid scores of laughter emoticons.

In the interview, the journalist asks an old man his opinion of a planned cemetery for officials. The old man thinks for a moment, before asking, "Will they be burying them alive?"

War cemetery

The Guangzhou authorities have also announced plans, meanwhile, to demolish a war cemetery and memorial honoring Chinese soldiers who died in World War II.

The Baiyunshan war cemetery was initially set up after the war using donations gathered by Kuomintang Gen. Sun Li-jen, known by his nickname "Rommel of the East," who led the Chinese "First Army Under Heaven," credited with defeating the most troops in the war against Japanese invasion forces in China.

Later in the war, Sun's New 38th Division played a key role in protecting the Burma Road and joined the 'X Force' under Joseph Stilwell during the campaign to retake northern Burma in 1943.

Many of those buried in the cemetery fought and died alongside Sun, who was one of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's most respected generals.

Reported by Yang Fan and Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wei Ling for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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