High demand for tomb space in Beijing's vicinity sends prices soaring

A mourner walks through a cemetery in Jinjiang during the Tomb-Sweeping Festival in 2015. Photo: Getty Images

The buying spree of tombs located in the areas adjacent to China's megacities has sent the prices of this special type of private properties soaring.

Recently, the Xinhua News Agency, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, ran a feature story indicating that the plots of tombs in the top 10 cemeteries in Hebei province are sold at high prices ranging from 3,800 yuan per square meter to 40,000 yuan per square meter, with distance to Beijing being a key selling point. 

The report quoted a grave seller surnamed Wang as saying that many cemetery operators in Hebei province normally target Beijing residents as their potential customers, with the Lingshan Baota Cemetery in the province's Sanhe city adjacent to eastern Beijing even selling grave plots valued at as much as 80,000 yuan. Besides, the Cemetery also offers upscale burial services, according to the report.

The phrase "graves adjacent to Beijing" has become a hot search item on the Internet, showing a tendency that urban residents prefer to bury their beloved, deceased kinsfolks in the adjacent smaller cities.

Bordering Beijing, Hebei province, together with Tianjin, has been included into China's Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei coordinated development strategy aimed at relocating the superfluous laborers and non-capital functions of the Chinese capital to the surrounding smaller cities. The Chinese government says that the strategy offers remedies for the "big city diseases" and will help create job opportunities and promote industrial upgrading in Hebei province and Tianjin.

And thanks to the establishment of the Xiongan New Area, a new special economic district earmarked by Chinese President Xi Jinping as the site for a massive new city that could be comparable to Beijing, Hebei province is expected to serve as a desirable resting place for the deceased.

However, Wang said that the tombs in Hebei province enjoy a relatively high price-performance ratio, especially compared with those in Beijing.

People have to pay at least 60,000 yuan for a tomb in Beijing's southern suburb of Daxing, which is separated from Hebei province's Zhuozhou city by the Yongding River. In Zhuozhou city, a tomb is more affordable with a selling price starting from 10,000 yuan, approximately equal to the average price per square meter for residential properties there.

In Shanghai, the prices for tombs are more appalling. In Fushouyuan Haigang Cemetery located in Shanghai's Pudong New Area, a standard tomb covering an area of 1.2 square meters is sold for 140,000 yuan, higher than the nearby residential properties' prices of 30,000-35,000 yuan per square meter.

A small tomb can produce big margins. According to a fiscal report of Langfang, Hebei province-based funeral and interment service provider Wan Tong Yuan, which was listed in Hong Kong in 2017, the company had a gross profit rate of 81.9 percent last year, mainly helped by the location of its cemetery, which is only 40 kilometers away from Beijing.

In traditional Chinese culture, burial is the best way for the deceased to rest in peace, and the size and location of the tomb represents the social status when they are alive. This belief has prompted some funeral and interment service providers to offer big, extravagant tombs, which is not encouraged by the Chinese government.

In the recent years, some local governments have successively rolled out policies to cap the size of tomb, with the Guiyang government stipulating that a tomb cannot cover an area of more than 0.6 square meter.

The national call for frugal burial has led to the invention of some technology-centric ways for burial. It is reported that some technology companies adopt a cutting-edge technology to transform bone ash into what they call a "life crystal", which can help save the land resources for cemeteries. This burying method is becoming popular in Beijing and Shanghai.

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