Chinese researchers call for improving hospice care and reforming funeral industry as population ages rapidly
Published: Jul 10, 2024 08:00 PM
Elderly people exercise at a community activity room for the aged in Yangzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, on December 15, 2023. Photo: VCG

Elderly people exercise at a community activity room for the aged in Yangzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, on December 15, 2023. Photo: VCG

Researchers from a Chinese top university highlighted the urgency of promoting life and death education, improving hospice care and reforming the funeral industry across China as they predicted that in the context of rapidly advancing population aging, the country will face a surge in population mortality.

Professor Zhang Zhen from the Institute of Population Research at Fudan University and Professor Li Qiang from Fudan Institute on Aging, Fudan University, published a paper on the topic in the latest issue of Population Research, a journal of China Population Association.

In the paper, the two scholars advocate for the promotion of education on life and death, guiding the public to develop a correct view of life and death, and creating a social atmosphere that respects life. Also, they urge the accelerated development of palliative care systems to improve the end-of-life quality for the elderly, ensuring that they can spend their final stage of life in comfort and dignity. Additionally, they emphasize the importance of strengthening medium to long-term planning for funeral services to ensure supply and demand balance, and to prevent issues such as unaffordable funerals and exorbitant burial plots from exacerbating social conflicts. Lastly, they recommend providing legal services for the protection of the rights of the elderly and for resolving inheritance disputes, in anticipation of potential legal cases that may arise in the coming decades.

In an exclusive reply to the Global Times, Professor Zhang especially addressed the significance of reforming the funeral industry and gave advices on the issue.

For example, the funeral industry should plan ahead and cope with the limited land resources in a timely manner. Government departments at all levels need to take a scientific approach and pay close attention to accurately predicting future death trends, according to another article provided by Zhang to the Global Times.

Also, the article, co-written by professors Zhang and Li, said the country should increase the proportion of public welfare cemeteries in cities. Citing the urban public welfare cemetery construction standards 2017 jointly issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the National Development and Reform Commission, the article said the proportion of public welfare graves for burial is only 40 percent, which does not adhere to the basic principles of public services. 

The article said authorities should ensure public welfare funeral services and strictly regulate commercial services. Basic funeral services only include services such as body transport, storage, cremation, and ash placement, while cemetery service fees usually account for over 50 percent. In addition to other optional commercial projects, funeral costs burden the families of the deceased. 

Therefore, the authorities should first improve the level of basic funeral services and consider incorporating projects such as expensive ash boxes into basic services to prevent commercial institutions from seeking excessive profits and causing negative social impacts.

The article suggested the authorities to increase financial subsidies and funding for rural funeral reform, include funeral reform funds for poverty alleviation in the budget, and strictly monitor and regulate the allocation of funds. Under the premise of government financial investment, various methods can be used to raise funds, such as using incentives to subsidize investments, the article noted.

In addition, the article said the country should utilize the advantages of new media to vigorously promote and advocate for green burials. For example, green burial methods such as sea burials, tree burials, flower burials, and ice burials should be exempted of basic service fees and provided with economic rewards. Particularly for those who choose to scatter ashes at sea or elsewhere without retaining them, greater incentives should be provided.