Chinese Lying About Funeral Materials, Are Importers Getting Ripped Off?

April 5, 2010

imageThe following article displays information on how retailers in the Chinese funeral market are lying about the material used to make funeral products like Urns so they can charge a higher premium. This makes me wonder if they (the Chinese) are telling US importers the same false information? Is the product from China really what we think it is? Although, most are not buying product from China because of the material or quality, but for the price, are importers really getting what they are paying for?

China’s Funeral Industry Accused of Robbing The Living to Bury The Dead

With China’s traditional holiday for honoring the dead falling on Monday (today), throngs of people jostle along the 2-km road in Liudaokou village, Tianjin Municipality, where more than 100 wholesale funeral supply shops compete for business.

“This urn is 170 yuan (24.9 U.S. dollars) wholesale, 1,000 yuan retail here. A retailer can sell it for 5,000 yuan in the city,” says saleswoman Li Na, pointing at a plain red wood urn inscribed with two Chinese characters “bai fu”, or a hundred blessings.


“It’s easy money,” says Li. “Take urns for example, no one wants to bargain for a container of his father, mother or whoever’s ashes.”

In a country where about 10 million people die every year, the funeral industry market is worth tens of billions yuan, says Hao Maishou, a researcher with Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences.

However, a lack of market standards and management is allowing unscrupulous business people to monopolize areas of the industry and exploit people’s grief, Hao adds.


In another shop, tags claim that the urns, priced from 200 to 600 yuan, are made of rare and precious ebony or redwood, a claim that invites questions.

Li says, “Of course they are not made of ebony or redwood, or they would not be so inexpensive, but if the urns were finely made and tagged with high prices, customers wouldn’t doubt it.”

Wang Na, owner of Lingzhitang funeral supply shop, teaches a novice retailer to sell a 200-yuan urn for 5,000 yuan. “Say it’s ebony, rosewood, redwood or whatever precious material and quote high. Customers like premium urns. They won’t buy cheap ones.”

Elaborate funeral remains a traditional culture of the Chinese, as nobody wants to be regarded as stingy or unfilial on funeral issues, especially for deceased family members, says a Tianjin businessman involved in funeral service, who only identifies himself as Liu.

“As long as you understand and utilize such a feeling, you are guaranteed to make a pile,” Liu says.

At an urban Tianjin funeral home, a government-run facility that provides cremation and funeral services, an “ebony” urn bearing the traditional painting, Riverside Scene on Tomb-sweeping Day, sells for 12,800 yuan while the same urn costs only 1,100 yuan in Liudaokou.

A plain-looking urn inscribed “Always remembered” in Chinese characters is priced at 10,000 yuan. Urns of the same inscription, materials and shape sell for 180 yuan in Liudaokou.


Tombs are another major source of profit for the industry. In a suburban graveyard in west Beijing, Liu Hai has just bought an 0.8 square meter tomb for 75,000 yuan.

“The tomb’s price per square meter was even higher than that of premium apartments in urban Beijing. But it was for my mother, I had no choice,” Liu says.

In Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, tombs of several square meters are priced from 5,000 yuan to 60,000 yuan while urban apartments cost 4,700 yuan per square meter, says Zhang Fengying, owner of a tomb agency.

City governments, which put a priority in meeting demand for housing land, are very prudent in allocating land for graves, creating a supply shortage, says Liu Tieliang, vice president of Chinese Folklore Society.

To meet the demand, more suburban graveyards need to be developed. More importantly, rural graveyards need to improve service and management standards to win the trust of urban customers, Liu says.


China released its first green paper on the funeral industry on March 31. It says a Beijing family spends 3,000 yuan on average for a service package in funeral homes. The cost does not include the money spent at home, tombs or funeral supply shops outside the public facilities.

The green paper sparked a heated debate among Internet users. In a poll by portal, 92 percent of 5,600 respondents agreed the funeral industry is earning too much and 78.6 percent believed the green paper underestimated the average cost of each funeral service.

The cost of a package, including body storage, cosmetics, dressing, transport, funeral and cremation ranges from 3,000 to 60,000 yuan, says a man surnamed Liu, who works in a state-run Beijing funeral home.

Most of China’s funeral homes are state-run, creating a conflict of interest with government organs that are supposed to supervise them. This is the root of the unreasonable profits of the funeral industry, says Yang Genlai, a scholar with the Institute of Administrative Cadres under the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA).

The government should transfer operational rights to industry associations and focus on supervision and management as to build a healthy market, Yang says.


A report released by the MCA on April 2 says the country spent 399 million yuan subsidizing the funeral services of 924,000 deceased people.

About 132 million low-income Chinese are eligible for subsidies or remissions of funeral costs, the report said.

In South China’s Shenzhen City, poorer residents can have basic funeral services for free. The municipal government also puts flowers, urns, coffins and other funeral products out to tender to ensure fair pricing, says Zhen Xiaoxia an official with the city’s civil affairs department.

Shenzhen is also pioneering ecological funerals. The ashes of 32,251 dead people have been scattered at sea since 1998, Zhen says.

The city also launched a tree burial project in 2008. The ashes of 122 people have been buried under banyan trees, Zhen says.


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