By Michael Evans
Tombstones are knocked over in a graveyard surrounded by farmland in Shangshui county, Henan Province. Photo: CFP
Over 2 million graves have been demolished in Henan this year as part of a controversial land reclamation project.
In Zhoukou, one of several cities spearheading the campaign, authorities say they plan to flatten all tombs within three years. Unsurprisingly, the new policy has met with resistance from local residents.
“I felt very uncomfortable and couldn’t accept this, because it has only been four years since my mother passed away,” said Zhu, adding that the coffin had been exposed when he had been forced to knock the tomb down.
Two other family tombs, which contained his grandfather and great-grandfather, were also leveled. He received 600 yuan ($94.5) in total as compensation, 200 for each tomb.
Officials say that the policy is intended to create more available farmland, and aim to eventually reclaim a total of 30,000 亩 (mǔ, about 2,000 hectares).
The move has attracted protests from scholars across the country, who describe the tomb-flattening policy as an affront to traditional Chinese culture.
Some Zhoukou residents, for their part, say they will refuse to cultivate new farmland on top of their ancestors’ graves. Shanghaiist recommends that no-one build a hotel on the land either, as we all know how that ends.
Fortunately, they may not need to make that decision. Last week, China’s State Council stepped into the dispute, with an announcement that as of January 1, 2013, local officials will no longer have the authority to forcibly demolish burial sites.
Update #1: China Daily says that work will continue on the project despite reports to the contrary.
On Wednesday, The Beijing News quoted an unnamed publicity official as saying the city has suspended its campaign. However, when contacted by China Daily, city spokeswoman Li Xianghong said the report is not true.
“The campaign is still being carried out steadily without any change,” Li said.
Yue Wenhai, mayor of Zhoukou, told a TV station the city is promoting the “reform of funerals and interment” to protect farmland. He said tombs scattered throughout the countryside hamper the use of large agricultural machinery, and called for understanding from residents.