Enhancing final farewell

Updated: 2012-12-28 07:30

By Xu Wei (China Daily)

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The home offers pallbearers as a sole optional extra to its basic services of cremation and transportation. "If we were to provide more services right now, it would be like a country inn providing the same service as a five-star hotel," said Zhu.

However, superstition is also a crucial factor keeping talent away from the industry.

"Society holds strong prejudices toward people in this industry, because of the superstitions regarding death. That constantly puts industry insiders under pressure," said Lu.

Changsha Social Work College is one of just four technical colleges in China offering a course on funeral services.

"Our graduates can always find a job in the industry, if they want. However, some of them decide not to work in the industry because of family pressures," said Lu.

The shortage of talent has resulted in a low entry threshold in the industry, a factor that could lower service standards. Moreover, even though well-trained graduates can easily find a job, finding a place where they can fully display their skills is difficult.

"The Taiwan model generally requires teamwork, but most funeral homes only recruit one or two graduates at a time, and some work in basic services, such as cremation. That doesn't give graduates the scope to display what they have learned," said Lu.

Calls for change

Compared with other industries, monopolies are common, because one enterprise can dominate its locale. "No one would bother going to another county or district for a service such as this," said Tony Liu.

Meanwhile, Huaien's experience in Hunan during the past seven years has indicated that breaking into the market in larger cities can be relatively easier, because they lack the deeply rooted regional protectionism seen in smaller areas.

Liu Yuchi said local authorities should act as supervisors rather than operators. "In some places, funeral homes are closely related to the civil affairs bureaus. The authorities are both the player and the referee," he said.

Meanwhile, experts have long called for legislation to standardize funeral services, including the management of cemeteries and a licensing system for service providers.

At present, the guiding light is the Regulation on Funeral and Interment Control, issued by the State Council, China's cabinet, in 1997, but amended several times.

At China's National People's Congress session in March, more than 60 deputies submitted two proposals about funeral laws, the Legal Daily reported.

"China's funeral industry is relatively backward and the absence of legislation has proved disadvantageous to regulation and development," according to the green book report.

Change has taken place over the years, but its pace has been glacial.

Wilson Tong, who has visited funeral homes in Guangzhou and Shanghai over the years, said Chinese establishments are gradually moving toward the provision of more customer-oriented services, but raising the industry to another level will take time.

"Funeral homes should be decent, humane places, rather than something most people avoid mentioning. The industry is special because it has a rigid demand. The authorities need to ensure that people can afford the services and are able to honor the deceased in the way they would like," he said.

Contact the writer at xuwei@chinadaily.com.cn


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