How much middle-class death costs in Beijing

Updated: 2012-04-04 16:14


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Editor's Notes: Qingming Festival falls on April 4 this year, when Chinese people usually pay tributes to their deceased family members. A Xinhua television crew investigated how much a family would pay for a fairly decent death and following services. A fictitious Beijing resident gives a posthumous monologue, which is, however, based on solid evidence after interviews in the real world.

BEIJING -- While soaring consumer products and housing prices have compelled many Beijing residents to complain about the high cost of living, it's equally costly to die a decent death in the Chinese capital.

I died from kidney failure Saturday in Chaoyang Hospital in the east side of Beijing.

I had been in critical condition for two days, during which my family had prepared me clothes for the afterlife -- a dark silk outfit with gold embroidered design that cost 2,800 yuan ($450), enough to buy this season's new Prada shirt.

Shortly after I stopped breathing at 11:00 pm, funeral service workers put my 180-pound-body in a casket, which they carried onto a Mercedes Benz van-turned hearse.

During my life, I traveled in Mercedes cars a few times, but it was the first time I was lying inside.

After my family tipped the driver 100 yuan, he transported me from the hospital to the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in western Beijing, the last stop for many residents in the city. The car rent and the trip cost 1,600 yuan.

I spent the night in Babaoshan with dozens of dead bodies for 30 yuan, before I got some make-up the next morning and was cleaned up, which cost 200 yuan.

A not-so-pleasant portrait of me was framed and decorated with black silk ribbons on both sides, which was priced at 160 yuan.

My funeral was held two days later. My family needed to pay 1,300 yuan to rent a funeral room that could accommodate more than one thousand relatives, friends and colleagues.

As for the large arrangement of flowers covering the casket and an assortment of flower baskets placed under my picture, they had to pay another 1,300 yuan.

The funeral lasted more than an hour with me lying inside a 3,200-yuan wooden coffin.

My family chose the mid-level coffin for me from a number of options ranging from a 1,900-yuan paulownia wood coffin to a 12,600-yuan rose wood one.

After the funeral, I was delivered to a furnace and cremated. Rising fuel prices have raised the charge to 760 yuan for burning me to ashes.

My family stored my remains in a 3,150-yuan ash box with dragon engravings. A large number of ash boxes consumed in Beijing are made in a coastal province of Zhejiang, and their prices soar after being shipped to Beijing and sold in citywide markets.

A middle-aged ash box saleswoman told my family that the dragon engraving "went with my social standing as an official."

Choosing a tomb for me had been a headache. Due to increasingly limited cemetery space in Beijing and speculation in the tomb market, the prices of cemetery plots have surged in recent years at a pace comparable to the booming property market.

A one-square-meter plot in a cemetery in northwestern suburbs costs at least 75,000 yuan. The most expensive one, a well-positioned and exquisitely-decorated family tomb, costs more than 250,000 yuan, the price of a new Audi A4 sedan.

My family bought a mid-level tomb in Beijing Jinshan Graveyard, which is located in a northwestern hill with a good view overlooking the city where I had worked for four decades. It cost 126,000 yuan.

After a total fund of 140,600 yuan was spent, I was laid there to eternal rest, but my family's financial burden does not cease.

Every year on Tomb-sweeping Day, or Qingming Festival when my family visit my grave, they burn paper money and cardboard houses as an offering to my afterlife.

The latest fad, I overheard their murmurs this morning, is to burn paper iPhones and iPads, some of which are sold at more than 600 yuan each. I will probably use them to calculate my expenses in the afterlife.