Cash incentive to opt for a different method of mourning

Some cemeteries in Shanghai have started offering an option that converts cremation ashes into "life crystal."

Some cemeteries in Shanghai yesterday began offering an option that converts cremation ashes into “life crystal.”

The technology transforms ashes into particulate matters or “life crystal” under high temperatures.

Residents are encouraged to convert part of the ashes of beloved ones into “life crystal” with a subsidy offered by authorities and pay their respects at home for the dongzhi, or winter solstice, on December 22.

The scheme was launched to reduce the demand for land for burials and to curb the rising prices of tombs because many cemeteries in the city have a shortfall of land.

Winter solstice, like Qingming Festival, is a key time for people to pay their respects to the dead by visiting tombs. The visiting peak times usually start on the weekend about three weeks ahead of the actual day.

The life crystal subsidy marks the latest effort by local civil affairs authorities to prevent traffic congestion for the winter solstice.

The cost of making one “life crystal” is 998 yuan (US$155), and a 400 yuan subsidy is offered as an incentive for families who sign an agreement to visit cemeteries at non-peak times.

“‘Life crystal’ serves as an indication or permanent reminder which allows people to observe traditional mourning at home,” said Wei Chao, deputy director of the Shanghai Funeral and Interment Service Center affiliated to the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

“In the past, people didn't have a medium if they wanted to pay tribute to the deceased at home, and by using this practice we hope to encourage them to avoid peak times when they visit cemeteries,” said Wei.

“The crystal is equal to cremation ashes as Chinese people don’t want to have urns at home.”

The service is offered by such cemeteries as Binhaiguyuan, Huilongyuan, Zhuanqiaoqinyuan, Weijiajiaoxiyuan and Xujingxiyuan.

It takes one week to 10 days to make one “life crystal.” So far, over 1,000 families have chosen the new burial option in Shanghai, according to the center.

Last year’s dongzhi fell on December 21, and nearly a million residents visited 54 Shanghai cemeteries to pay their respects to their ancestors, causing severe traffic jams on some expressways.

A resident surnamed Xie who lost his mother signed an agreement yesterday at  Binhaiguyuan Cemetery to convert some of his mother’s ashes into a “life crystal” that will be placed at home. “‘Life crystal’s another kind of company,” said Xie.

He added he wants to avoid peak visiting times at the cemeteries. 

“On normal days, people are too busy to visit tombs, while on big days like Qingming and dongzhi, all cemeteries are packed with tomb sweepers and paying tribute is like a mere formality.

“But now, we will put flowers by the crystal on big days and I can talk with my mother at home any time I want.”

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