Pricy land has urban Chinese buying condos as cemeteries
Nikkei Asian Review
Daisuke Harashima
09 May 2016

Some old condominiums, such as this one in Shanghai, are alternatively used as cemeteries.

SHANGHAI -- In the world's most populous country, people are having difficulty finding a "home" of their own -- both before and after death.

China's population is aging rapidly due in large part to Beijing's long-standing "one child" policy. As many as 10 million people die each year in China, and that number is expected to rise going forward.
But this has raised a grave concern for Chinese citizens, especially those who dwell in major cities; they are facing a dire shortage of cemetery sites amid higher land prices in such places as Shanghai, Dalian and Guangzhou. Many of China's urbanites are desperately searching for a resting place for their family members' cremated remains.

One 32-year-old woman, a real estate agent in Chongming Island, about 50km north of Shanghai near the mouth of the Yangtze River, has received a growing number of inquiries for local condominiums. Potential buyers are looking for a condo for "Paiyongchang" -- which literally means "having a use" in Chinese but in this context implies "in lieu of a cemetery."

In China's major coastal cities, such as Shanghai, land prices have skyrocketed amid robust economic growth. And the higher land prices have prompted a sharp increase in cemetery prices.

In some cases, tomb sites have become more expensive per square meter than condos. In central Shanghai, for example, a cemetery site costs an average of 90,000 yuan ($13,800) per square meter, roughly four times as much as a condominium on a square meter basis.

Generally, Chinese people choose to be cremated and each individual often buys their own tomb rather than have a family cemetery site. This local custom has led to higher cemetery site prices and an acute shortage of such sites.

Under regulations, the use of tomb sites is limited to only 20 years. In contrast, condominiums can be used for as long as 70 years. Moreover, a condo of about 40 sq. meters is priced at around 150,000 yuan. "Several families often pitch in to buy a condo together. First-floor rooms with a garden are particularly popular," said an employee of one local real estate company.

People turn to aging condo buildings -- usually over 30 years old -- in rural and farming areas, such as Chongming Island, to use as mausoleums. To avoid a clash of interests with local residents, many of these condo buyers purchase such properties secretly, according to real estate agents. There was a mirror stand sitting in the middle of one room-turned-mausoleum. Atop the stand were a photo frame and a flower vase. The circular trace of an urn was still visible.

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