Officials Ban Private Funeral Parties in China's Zhejiang

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Relatives take part in a funeral procession in Hunan province, in a file photo.
Relatives take part in a funeral procession in Hunan province, in a file photo.
AP Photo

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang are rolling out draconian funeral reforms targeting traditional practices around death and ancestral lineage, RFA has learned.

From Oct. 1, private wakes, which can involve days of chanting monks, the wailing of professional mourners, singers and even strippers, will be banned in certain areas of Zhejiang's Wenzhou city.

Under a set of pilot regulations titled "Action Plan for the Reform of Traditional Customs," the practice will be banned in the city's Danan Street and Puxiecheng Street districts.

Instead, mourners will be offered the service of a centralized, government funeral, with high-end, middle-range and low-cost packages available to families, according to a recent directive from the city's propaganda department.

A Wenzhou resident surnamed Zheng said local people are in the habit of holding elaborate wakes in their own manner, and entrusting the process to an officially recognized funeral home goes against the grain for many.

"Most people have them in their homes, so I think there will be a lot of opposition to this," Zheng said. "If we have to go to [a funeral home] to do it, I'm pretty sure it'll cost a lot more."

"It's much easier to hold a wake at home," he said.

Wenzhou has been a focal point for ideological reforms under the administration of President Xi Jinping since September 2016, when it was chosen as a pilot for the ruling Chinese Communist Party's strategic reforms to traditional beliefs.

The city has been tasked with "integrating socialist core values and rectifying marriage and funeral customs," among other reforms.

Not everyone is a fan of traditional funerals, and the loud music and street parties blocking traffic for days in a row have sparked a number of neighborhood disputes.

A second Wenzhou resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said the proposed ban on traditional funeral celebrations was "ridiculous," however.

"I think this is a bit ridiculous," the resident said. "I don't think it's appropriate to use a one-size-fits-all approach, even though I really don't think these customs are good."

'Obscene and vulgar performances'

The ban isn't the first attempt to curb funeral practices.

In January, the ministry of culture launched a new campaign to eliminate "obscene and vulgar performances at weddings, funerals and temple fairs," setting up a hotline for paid tip-offs, the Global Times newspaper reported.

"By hiring performers, people can ensure a higher turnout at the deceased's funeral as a way of honoring the dead and showing 'filial piety'," the paper said.

"In recent decades, Chinese rural households are more inclined to show off their disposable incomes by paying out several times their annual income for actors, singers, comedians, and—most recently, strippers—to comfort the bereaved and entertain the mourners," it said.

But the the authorities vowed to stamp out such "uncivilized" practices after a number of photos of such performances, where children were also present, went viral on social media platforms, it said.

The Wenzhou ban comes as footage of officials in some parts of the country forcibly removing prized coffins from people's homes in a bid to encourage them to use cremation instead has sparked online outrage in recent weeks.

"Coffin-snatching" by local officials is a growing phenomenon in rural China, where families prefer traditional burials in the soil of their hometowns, and where officials are under increasing pressure by the Communist Party to end such burials in favor of cremation.

Many elderly people in rural China purchase their coffins in preparation for their own funerals in accordance with traditional preferences for burial in or near one's ancestral home.

Zhejiang authorities also pushing ahead with an ever-widening ban on religious activity among government employees, including schoolteachers and medical personnel, with schoolteachers and medical personnel being forced to sign a letter pledging to hold no religious beliefs.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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