According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, dozens of elderly have committed suicide in recent weeks, often leaving a note saying they want to make sure their death is registered and they can get a proper burial before the June 1 deadline
comes and their bodies have to be cremated.
After the deadline, authorities in Anhui province have said all cemeteries will be closed to further burials because the country is running out of space. In order to drive the point home, the Home Council has even gone so far as to raid a local funeral home, removing and smashing the proprietor's caskets, leaving them piled up on the side of a road for all to see.
The outlandish move only hastened the number of deaths
by suicide as many elderly people rushed to make sure they got one of the few caskets left. While cremation has gained in popularity in recent years, the elderly, especially in the countryside, find it difficult to set aside the "old ways."
Zhang Wenying, 81, hanged herself on May 13. She left behind a note saying she had ended it all to make sure she could have a decent death, and she expected to be buried.
Another elder suicide was 97-year-old Wu Lixiu, who died on May 12. There have been reports from elders in other villages in Anhui province, reporting at least seven or more deaths from suicide of people wanting to be buried.
With over nine million burials every year, China is running out of space to bury the dead. But even with limited space, death and proper handling and burial of the deceased are very much a part of the culture. Every aspect, from tomb location and the handling of the body to the funeral procession, are dictated by custom and tradition.
Funeral services are a very lucrative business
in China, with the industry said to be worth over 93.5 billion yuan ($15.4 billion) last year, Despite the government pushing for people to use a more eco-friendly means of burial, or in other words, cremation and burial at sea, the funeral industry is still expected to come out with a 10 percent rise in profits annually over the next five years.
To cut down on space, cremation is already required by law in most large cities, but the ruling was left to the discretion of local authorities in many smaller towns and villages. But it was only a matter of time before the hammer fell. Provinces will run out of burial room in the next 10 years, according to a study by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. A few provinces, like Shanxi, Shandong and Guangdong, have fewer than five years until they run out of room.
It is going to be a difficult decision for an aging population
. Zhang Hongchang, head of the official China Funeral Association, says, "China cannot give excessive space to the dead. If you want a tomb, you must accept it will only be for 20 or 30 years, and then the ashes will be moved to a collective memorial.