Monday, May 4, 2009

Cremation and Chinese crime gangs

Gangs are thought to be kidnapping and murdering elderly people, then selling the corpses for cremation to superstitious families who do not want their own dead loved ones incinerated. The bereaved in southern China are buying substitute bodies for the cremation and secretly burying their dead relatives. Cremation is promoted as hygienic and space-saving, and in some regions it is obligatory. However, many believe if a body is burnt the spirit will be angry and misfortune will befall descendants. If it has the proper rites the spirit is content in the next world and protects relatives. Although nationwide only 1% of the population is cremated, in the county of Jieyang in Canton, where it is mandatory, the figure is 100%. The sinister theory is emerging that many of the bodies are elderly people living alone who have been snatched and murdered. Several gangs are reported to be involved in the trade of substitute corpses, charging 10,000 yuan (almost £1,000). The South China Morning Post reported how increasing numbers of missing-person posters had appeared in the towns of Jeixi and Puning in recent years. It is thought about 400 elderly people have disappeared in the region. One villager said: “My 67-year-old brother-in-law disappeared in February and my mother’s cousin three years ago. We have never received the slightest news.” Tong Xiaopin, a social sciences investigator in Canton, said: “Many people, above all in the countryside, believe that improvements in living conditions are not the result of social reform but because of the way in which they buried their ancestors.”

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