Ever since Deng Xiaoping signaled in 1978 that it was fine to get rich, much of China has seemed hell-bent on that goal. But some local governments would like those who succeed not to lord it over others, at least when it comes to paying final respects.
As of last month, in the cemeteries of this hilly megalopolis in south central China, modest burial sites are in. Fancy tombs are out. And in some places, so are fancy funerals.
Plots for ashes are limited to 1.5 square meters, about 4 feet by 4 feet. Tombstones are supposed to be no higher than 100 centimeters, or 39 inches, although it is not clear that limit will be enforced. Sellers of oversize plots have been warned of severe fines, as much as 300 times the plot’s price.
“Ordinary people who walk by and see these lavish tombs might not be able to keep their emotions in balance,” said Zheng Wenzhong, as he visited the relatively modest resting place of a relative at The Temple of the Lighted Lamp cemetery. That is apparently exactly what many officials fear. After a quarter of a century in which the gap between rich and poor has steadily widened, the wretched excesses of the affluent are increasingly a Chinese government concern.
China’s income inequality, as measured by a standard called the Gini coefficient, is now on a par with some Latin American and African countries, according to the World Bank. Justin Yifu Lin, the bank’s chief economist, last year identified the growing disparity as one of China’s biggest economic problems.