The Guest Room

A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog

New China Hand: The Long March meets Weekend at Bernie’s?!?

Photo credit: Luo ye Gen / Getting Home (2007, Zhang Yang)

Photo credit: Luo ye Gen / Getting Home (2007, Zhang Yang)

Reports coming from Yunnan province suggest a man was arrested after carrying his deceased father 600km, only a third of the way through a journey back to his hometown in Hubei for burial. Apparently, the man’s father had succumbed to tuberculosis and so public transport was a no-go.

Less The Walking Dead, more Walking The Dead, no? No? Ok…

The practice of ‘corpse walking’ was thought to be mainly literary myth in China, but this case brings to light the desperation of those caught between filial obligation and a lack of practical resources to carry it out (no pun intended).

Burial costs in China are, of course, an old problem (remember the ‘Meet Joe Black’ maxim about death and taxes?). One of the earliest tasks of Chinese welfare societies in Hong Kong – such as the Po Leung Kuk and Tung Wah Hospitals – was to provide funds and for proper funeral rights. This was especially urgent during the plague of 1894, where, as in today’s example, fear of disease contamination left families to attempt the abandonment of corpses and even the houses they died in.

These obligations do not just apply to those within China: viewers of HBO’s ‘Deadwood’ series might also remember the importance to Mr. Wu of returning dead Chinese to ‘ChungGwok’ for proper burial, reflecting the importance of home soil in the spiritual beliefs of the diaspora.

Nor are unaffordable funeral costs limited to China. The increase in funeral charges in the UK, for example, has led to some warning of ‘funeral poverty’. How long before citizens of the Commonwealth return to ‘bringing out their dead’?

Of course, let’s hope the man’s father receives the burial and dignity he deserves. At the same time, hygiene and disease control is a key issue in any society. With the largest number of economic migrants in history, a mixture of flexibility and community support is vital in allowing workers to fulfil responsibilities to both current and past generations. Let the ‘corpse walkers’ remain a historical curiosity or an urban myth.

Disposal of human remains is an even more pressing issue in another Asian country these days. Following typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, this is one of many battlefields on which the local population are fighting for survival. Do your bit to help by donating, here:

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This entry was posted on December 9, 2013 by in NewChinaHand and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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