Expert: Burial plot lease rule too stingy

Updated: 2011-04-05 08:26

By Gao Changxin (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - As the years dividing successive generations of Chinese become more and more numerous, the amount of time that people are allowed to own cemetery plots should be extended, says a funeral expert.

Qiao Kuanyuan, from the China Funeral Association, made the comment after netizens raised an outcry during the tomb-sweeping holiday this month over a regulation stipulating that legal ownership of cemetery spaces should expire after 20 years.

Media reports said that the regulation, issued in 1998 by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, recommends that purchasers of burial plots and of frames used to store the ashes of deceased loved ones be given the right to use burial properties for up to 20 years in principle.

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"The regulation was rolled out more than a decade ago, when the age gap between generations was around 20 years," said Qiao, who is also a professor at University of Shanghai for Science and Technology.

"But the gap has widened ever since, as families delay marriage and childbearing. So it would be reasonable if the government would make amendments to the rule and extend the period of ownership."

The ministry responded on Monday by saying that the right to use burial plots is to last for 50 years or 70 years, not 20 years. Burial place buyers pay a sum of money for using the plots for 20 years, and will be able to continue to use them if they pay the management fees after 20 years.

The amount of the fee has not been made explicit.

Li Bo, deputy head of the social affairs department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told the Xinhua News Agency recently that the fee amounts should be set according to the contract provisions agreed to between the buyer of a burial plot and the seller. He noted that such buyers have leasehold rights, not property rights.

That legal fact has instilled a sense of uncertainty in many burial plot owners who plan to visit their beloved ones on Tuesday in observance of the tomb-sweeping Qingming Festival.

"When I'm alive, I get a 70-year lease on my multi-million apartment," said Li Jing, an office clerk in Shenzhen, a city neighboring Hong Kong. "But when I'm dead, I get only 20 years for my tomb. It's outrageous."

Li has joined those calling for the term of plot ownership to be extended to 70 years, which is the same expiration term set on leases of residential properties. She would also like to see a clear listing of the fees that will be charged after an ownership period expires.

"What if the charge becomes so expensive that my son can't afford it?" Li said. "What will (the government) do? Dig me out?"

Although the regulation is in effect for all of China, leasing terms and management fees in fact vary from place to place throughout the country, largely because the Ministry of Civil Affairs' rule is only meant to be applied "in principle".

In Jiangsu province, for instance, the leasing term is 30 years. In Henan province, it is 50 years, and in Shanghai, it is 70 years, which is the longest term found in the nation.

In Jinan, Shandong province, the management fees charged on burial plots whose leasing-term has expired range from 15 yuan to 25 yuan a month (from $2.3 to $3.8). And the charges in some Beijing cemeteries, according to reports, will top 100 yuan a month.

"The government should issue unified standards for the management fees charged to owners of burial plots whose leasing terms have expired," Qiao said.


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