Chinese grave robbers jailed for selling bodies so villagers could bypass cremation laws

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/18 19:03:40

View of coffins of Miao ethnical minority dating back to Ming and Qing Dynasties in a cave in Guoli village, Longli county, Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, April 22, 2017. Photo: IC

Five men have been given prison sentences for "stealing dead bodies" after they were found to have sold the bodies to villagers in Juye county, Heze, East China's Shandong Province, to replace their deceased relatives so that they would not have to be cremated.

On February 24, 2017, Liu Changling, who had been running a funeral business for 10 years, stole the body of Sun Yunren, an 81-year-old man who died of cancer in Juancheng county, 80 kilometers from Juye, three days earlier, and sold it to a customer in Juye for 13,000 yuan ($2,070).

Sun's body was dressed as a woman to replace the buyer's mother and then cremated in Juye.

The following week, Liu and his partners stole two more bodies, earning a total of 14,100 yuan, The Beijing Times reported.

Chance discovery

The grave robbing ring was discovered in early March, 2017, when Xue Yongming, a cremation worker at a Juye funeral home, found that the gender of the body he was preparing to cremate was different from the gender stated on the identification card.

Xue then called the police, according to a court verdict posted on the China Judge Online on March 27.

Two brothers surnamed Shen from Juancheng recognized the body to be that of their mother, Chen Jinglan, who had passed away on February 26, 2017 and had been buried in a wheat farm near their village on February 28 without being cremated, which was common practice in Juancheng.

The brothers did not know when the body had been stolen.

It later emerged that Chen's body was the third the criminals had stolen in Juancheng between February 24 and March 2, 2017.

The stolen bodies had been ordered by several families in Juye, where cremation is strictly enforced.

The Juye purchasers would ask "professionals" to find bodies in nearby Juancheng to replace their deceased relatives, so that their bodies could be buried whole.

As the traditional belief that bodies should be buried whole was still prevalent, a trading chain had formed between Juye and Juancheng made up of customers who needed cremation certificates and robbers who stole dead bodies from their tombs, The Beijing Times said.

Liu even claimed to have gained unique insights from his crimes: small tombs covered with flowers indicated they were new, and the gender of the deceased could be discerned from the way their relatives cried, and even the position of the nails on the coffin.

Liu stole bodies "not only for money, but also for reputation."

"When someone came to me for help, I felt honored," Liu was quoted by The Beijing Times as saying.

Liu was caught in Urumqi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in June 2017 and sentenced to nine months in jail, the verdict read.

Old thinking

In some parts of China, although cremation has become compulsory or greatly encouraged, many people still believe a body should be buried whole in order for the deceased to rest in peace.

While many Chinese hold on to the traditional belief that a deceased person should be buried whole in the earth, many have been restricted from doing so due to national policies promoting cremation.

In 2014, the Ministry of Civil Affairs vowed to realize an almost 100 percent cremation for the deceased in the country in order to save land and protect the environment, the Legal Mirror reported.

Provincial regulations on funerals in Shandong also banned burials without cremation.

In July 2017, the Juye government announced that the cremation rate in the county had almost reached 100 percent, The Beijing News reported.

In 2015, Juye also set up a WeChat group to monitor cremation work. The group consists of a range of people, from top officials in the county to employees at funeral homes.

It stipulated that pictures should be taken of the entire funeral process, including the cremation and burial, and uploaded onto the chat group.

"If someone had a job, he could have lost it or been punished by refusing to cremate his deceased relatives," a Juye resident told the Global Times on Monday.

"Most people nowadays can understand the necessity of cremation," Wang Ming, a Juye cremation worker, told the Global Times.

"However, for the old generation, burying a body whole is still very important," said another Juye resident, "so people may seek other ways… as I heard, for instance, burying the body quietly at night."
Newspaper headline: In the Dead of Night

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