NYTimes: As China’s Income Gap Grows, Tombs Are a Target
signaled in 1978 that it was fine to get rich, much of has seemed hell-bent on that goal. But some local governments would like those who succeed not to lord it over others, at least when it comes to paying final respects.
As of last month, in the cemeteries of this hilly megalopolis in south-central China, modest burials are in. Fancy tombs are out.
Plots for ashes are limited to 1.5 square meters, about four feet by four feet. Tombstones are supposed to be no higher than 100 centimeters, or 39 inches, although it is not clear that limit will be enforced. Sellers of oversize plots have been warned of severe fines, as much as 300 times the plot’s price.
“Ordinary people who walk by and see these lavish tombs might not be able to keep their emotions in balance,” said Zheng Wenzhong, as he visited the relatively modest resting place of a relative at The Temple of the Lighted Lamp cemetery.
That is apparently exactly what many officials fear. After a quarter of a century in which the gap between rich and poor has steadily widened, the wretched excesses of the affluent are increasingly a Chinese government concern.
, as measured by a standard called the Gini coefficient, is now on a par with some Latin American and African countries, according to the . Justin Yifu Lin, the bank’s chief economist, last year identified the growing disparity as one of China’s biggest economic problems.
Li Shi, an economics professor at Beijing Normal University, said that in 1988 the average income of the top 10 percent of Chinese was about 12 times that of the bottom 10 percent. By 2007, he said, those at the top earned 23 times more.
... Rising prices have cast China’s whole funeral industry in an unflattering light. Mr. Zheng, the Renmin University professor, said local governments were partly to blame for the inflation because they limited competition.
Most cemeteries are directly government-controlled, he said; the rest depend on permits from the government, which owns the land. The state Ministry of Civil Affairs said last year that the government was managing 1,209 cemeteries, 853 funeral management “work units” and about 7,000 workers.
“They control all of it, either by rejecting new projects or approving very, very few of them,” Mr. Zheng said.
On paper, low-cost burials have been national policy since at least 1997, when State Decree 225 ordered cemetery land conserved and “thrifty funeral arrangements” promoted.
BOTTOM-LINE: INCOME DISPARITY IS A SIDE-EFFECT OF GROWTH; THE CHINESE ARE MUCH BETTER OFF WITH INCOME DISPARITY NOW, THEN INCOME EQUALITY PRE-DENG XIAOPING!