Hong Kong is Running Out of Space to Place the Dead

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Photo: Vice

In Hong Kong, most residents believe that loved ones who have died must be cremated and put in a safe space immediately. This practice is done in an effort not to disturb the deceased’s spirit.

Permanent cemetery plots ran out a long time ago, so cremation has become the preferred option for Hong Kong residents. But finding a spot in a government-run columbarium (urn storages) involves a long wait that can take years.

Where will the bodies go?

Surprisingly, Fung Wai-tsun’s family transported their grandfather’s ashes from Hong Kong to China. This is because there is ample space for ashes in China. “We would have chosen Hong Kong if spaces were available, or cheaper,” Fung angrily told Vice.com.

“In Hong Kong, there’s very little choice of where we can put the dead. We have people living in subdivided housing, if you talk a lot about dead people, no one gives a s***.”

Finding a place for the dead in Hong Kong became even harder after the Beijing-led government established a new law in June stating that private funeral businesses must apply for new licenses.

Many Hong Kong residents believe that there is a ghost in every urn that does not belong to their loved ones. These spirits are believed to decrease property prices indicating property owners would be against funeral businesses to keep real estate costs high.

Permanent Solution for the Dearly Departed

Private columbaria are the best alternative for those who can afford it. But in 2017 the government decided to regulate the market and forced private operators to get licensed.

Private operators had until March 31 to submit their applications, but no licenses have been granted yet. In the meantime, private columbaria haven’t been allowed to sell or let out any new niches, effectively causing a freeze in the market since last June.

Alnwick Chan, a property agent, believes that Beijing should look into building a large columbarium on one of HK’s islands. Chan also suggests that finding spaces for ashes on the Chinese mainland is the best option for now.

“Turning to Guangzhou [in mainland China] is one of the good ways to solve Hong Kong’s problems. It would relieve the pressure of demand if the land is legally meant for that purpose,” Chan said.

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