China Mourns Dead as Wuhan Families Deal With Mass Cremations

wuhan-station.jpg People wearing face masks walk in front of the Hankou railway station in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged last year, April 6, 2020. Wuhan partly reopened on March 28 after more than two months of near total isolation for its population of 11 million.

UPDATED at 7:30 P.M. EDT on 2020-04-08

As families across China remembered the dead on a traditional mourning day, the authorities issued a warning to a prominent lawyer who drew attention to the large numbers of family members lining up to collect their loved ones ashes in the central province of Hubei.

As the entire nation observed a three-minute silence at 10.00 a.m. on Saturday, the traditional grave-tending festival of Qing Ming, cars, trains and ships sounding horns and air defense alarms sounded out in memory of the dead, both ancestral and those who died more recently in the coronavirus pandemic.

But the tribute came amid ongoing questions over the government's official death toll and officials' early handling of the epidemic after it emerged in Hubei's provincial capital, Wuhan.

One social media user surnamed Cai published an article titled "Accountability is the best tribute for the dead."

In it, Cai wrote that mourning those who died after a disaster could bring comfort to the living, but more importantly, should cause people to reflect on the causes of the disaster.

"At the moment of national mourning, those responsible should be held to account, whether they be in government or the private sector," the article said.

An Wuhan resident surnamed Ding whose mother recently died of coronavirus said she had been denied hospital treatment because she couldn't get tested, and demanded that somebody be held to account over her death.

"I went to the police yesterday to ask about this," Ding said. "Everyone responsible for ... serious consequences should bear criminal liability, not just administrative accountability."

Mismatched ashes

Meanwhile, mourning relatives said they had discovered anomalous objects in urns that couldn't have been linked to their relatives.

A resident of Wuhan's Jiang'an district surnamed Liu said she had found a man's belt clasp in the urn she was given, supposedly containing her mother's ashes.

And a resident of Hongshan district said he had found the remains of ceramic dental crown, denture or implant in the urn labeled with his father's name, even though his father had never had such a thing fitted.

Meanwhile, Wuhan's funeral homes have been working round the clock to cremate dead bodies, giving rise to widespread suspicion of the official death toll of around 2,500 dead in the city.

Residents and citizen journalists have been counting urns and figuring out the number of cremations based on the combined capacity of the city's cremation facilities.

Most estimates, regardless of how they are arrived at, indicate the cremation of more than 40,000 dead bodies in recent weeks.

A source close to the funeral industry surnamed Ma said some incinerators have stopped working after being run night and day, and that funeral homes are now cremating several bodies together to meet demand.

"In the past, only one body would be cremated at a time, but now they are working 24/7," Ma said, adding that six out of the city's 30 furnaces were now no longer working.

"This is certainly because they have been burning too many bodies at the same time," he said. "This blocked up the machine and it burned out."

'Screaming sounds'

Ma said reports have emerged of people restrained and forced into body bags when they were still moving, citing videos circulating online.

These included a video that went viral on social media in February in which a woman speaking in a Wuhan dialect of Chinese described seeing a male patient next to her in a city hospital forced into a body bag while his feet and hands were still moving.

"One old lady was saying that they put one guy into ... a body bag when he wasn't even dead yet, and took him off to the crematorium because there was no way of saving him," he said, citing the particular video.

Ma also cited information from other video clips, including "screaming sounds" emerging from crematorium furnaces, "which tells us that some people were taken to the funeral homes while they were still alive."

RFA was unable to confirm these reports independently.

Meanwhile, authorities in the central province of Henan have handed an official reprimand to a lawyer who posted about the numbers of people lining up outside funeral homes in Wuhan.

Liu Yingying is the subject of a disciplinary action by the official lawyers' association in Henan's provincial capital, Zhengzhou after she posted a photo of people lining up outside an Wuhan funeral home to her WeChat account.

The Zhengzhou Lawyers' Association, which is under the control of the municipal justice bureau and therefore the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has accused her of "provoking dissatisfaction with the government" after her post received more than half a million views and more than 10,000 retweets.

The association said its code of practice requires lawyers not to post "inappropriate comments" online.

Liu had cooperated with the investigation, admitted her mistake, deleted the post and reflected sincerly on her mistake, it said, adding that it would treat her with leniency in return.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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