Bringing the dead back home

Updated: 2011-11-25 07:11

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

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Stranger tracks down family to help body of unknown man be cremated

ZHENGZHOU - After a pause and a scowl, pen in hand, Zhao Junfang wrote down the word "trustee" in the space on a cremation form asking for his relationship to the deceased.

Then he neatly signed his name and returned the sheet.

Bringing the dead back home
Thanks to Zhao's efforts, the remains of a stranger - who had been abandoned by his family - were finally cremated last Friday. Xinag Mingchao/China Daily

Thanks to Zhao's efforts, the remains of a stranger - who had been abandoned by his family - were finally cremated last Friday. They had stagnated for 387 days in a funeral parlor in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

"Finally, he can go home," Zhao said with a smile of relief.

Zhao, a 59-year-old farmer from Puyang in Henan, had learned about the dead man's story during a visit to the seniors' home.

The man had been brought in by his son in 2009 following a stroke.

"His son never showed up again after that, and the phone numbers he left were not in service," said Wang Fei, manager of Zhengzhou's Yihe seniors' home.

Wang said the man had hardly revealed anything about his own past before he died last October.

According to regulations, the man's body could not be cremated without consent from family.

"We Chinese cherish returning to our native places after death, so I wanted to fulfill that for him," said Zhao.

"I immediately thought I must go to find his family."

He traveled to Northeast China's Jilin province to look for the family.

"I'd prepared for the worst. But I really wanted to produce an effect on his family with my own action," Zhao said. "If a stranger can do this, surely his own children and family can make the effort to bring him home."

He went to the local police station only to discover that the contact information of the man's son and daughter registered there was void. He then went to the man's native village and was told his family had moved away 10 years ago.

Finally he managed to get in touch with the deceased's ex-brother-in-law.

Zhao told him not to worry about morgue fees, or for expenses for hospitalization and care at the seniors' home, which amounted to more than 100,000 yuan ($15,700), that had already been either exempted or paid by donors.

However, the ex-brother-in-law, despite his promise to find his nephew as soon as possible, replied the next day that he failed.

Zhao also reached the dead man's sister, who was ill, and said she hadn't contacted the man's children for a long time.

When Zhao got a letter from the sister entrusting him with the deceased's funeral affairs, he hurried back and finished the procedures for cremation.

"We are both moved and grateful for what he did," said Wang. "We had tried hard to look for his family but to no avail."

Hearing the story, many in Jilin and Henan offered him financial support.

"He has a rare loving heart. It's not easy for him to decide to travel so far and make such great efforts for a total stranger," said Wang Liang, a policeman in Yushu, Qinghai province, who assisted Zhao's search when he was there.

Yet Zhao said he just did it for his own conscience.

"Society is a big connected family, and we should just give a hand when others are in trouble."

Helping the abandoned dead man find peace has not been the only thing he did to put such faith into practice. Besides supporting 19 impoverished students over the past number of years, Zhao voluntarily participated in quake relief in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces in 2008 and 2010.

"He has a stubborn personality, and we just have to let him do what he wants to," complained his son Zhao Shilei.

According to the son, Zhao has limited income from farming and toils hard at kiln factories.

"For me, I just do what I like, and it's my greatest happiness when I complete it," explained Zhao, who has now finished bringing the dead man's ashes to his family.

Yang Xiaonan contributed to this story.