05/29/2014, 00.00
CHINA
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Anhui bans coffins and burials, driving seniors to commit suicide

Following tradition, many older Chinese buy a coffin in the last years of their life, in preparation for their funeral and burial in the ground. However, a local government has issued orders to destroy coffins and require cremation.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Some elderly people in Anhui have committed suicide after the government issued an order to seize coffins and ban burial in the ground.

In the recent past, Chinese authorities have been promoting cremation in lieu of burial to spare land for farming and industry. In the cities, this is relatively easy, but in rural areas, ancestral traditions are hard to change.

In the countryside, people have large tombs, in airy and open spaces, close to the water or up in the hills for a good fengshui (which literally translates wind-water, or harmony of all the elements of creation).

In preparation for the peace and harmony of the afterlife, many seniors buy solid wood coffins ahead of time and usually keep them in a room or under the bed.

Provincial authorities in Anqing, a rural area in Anhui, issued an order on 25 March that people must be cremated and that they must destroy or surrender their coffins to police.

According to the Beijing Times, the authorities on 18 April began going house to house to register or confiscate the coffins.

However, before officials could get to her coffin, 81-year-old Jiang Xiuhua hanged herself from a tree in her backyard.

On 6 May, Wu Zhengde, 91, killed himself an hour after he heard the news that his coffin would be taken away.

A week later, 97-year-old Wu Xiuli died after going on a hunger strike.

Gan Zhen, the director of the Anqing propaganda department, defended his office saying that there was no direct relation between elders committing suicide and funeral reform.

For Wu Jianqiang, chief of the propaganda department in Tongcheng, a county-level city in Anhui, the new rule was harsh and too rigid.

Officials, he noted, did "consider conducting burials based on the person's age but the idea was rejected".

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