China officials set corpse ablaze in cremation row

BEIJING (AFP) - Officials in a Chinese village dug up and set fire to a man's corpse after his family ignored their demand that he be cremated rather than buried, state media reported on Tuesday.

The case is an extreme example of the country's unevenly-enforced funeral policy, which tries to encourage cremation rather than interment given the wide range of alternative uses for land.

But traditional Chinese belief holds that an intact corpse buried in the earth allows the dead person's soul to live in peace. Confucian edicts say that ensuring one's body, hair and skin are not damaged is the most basic way to show respect to one's parents since they are gifts from them.

Cheng Chaomu, an 83-year-old peasant, was buried at Qinfeng in the eastern province of Anhui three days after his December 13 death by family members who said interment was his "dying wish", the state-run China Daily reported.

When they learnt of the burial, local officials demanded that the family dig up Cheng's body and cremate it, the paper reported. Relatives ignored the order and the officials, along with police and firefighters, dug up Cheng's coffin, poured petrol on it and ignited it.

"They wouldn't let us get near," Cheng's daughter Cheng Yinzhu told Anhui TV station, which also aired footage of police and villagers confronting each other after the forced cremation.

Since the 1950s China has called for most city residents to be cremated and in 2012 the national cremation rate was 49.5 percent, the China Daily reported.

Some cities have also begun offering bonuses for families who scatter their loved ones' ashes at sea.

Earlier this month the State Council, or cabinet, and the Communist Party's Central Committee ordered party members and officials to "set an example with simple, civilised funerals" and choose cremation whenever possible.

Yet traditional burials remain popular among many Chinese, with land in some cemeteries reaching tens of thousands of US dollars per half-metre plot.

Chinese law does not make clear what the penalty is for those who flout orders to cremate their loved ones' remains, the China Daily noted. The State Council last year abolished a rule allowing for forced cremation but did not replace it with any other policy.

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