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March 31, 2011

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Damaged tomb a mystery to family

SHAO Huanyi and 21 relatives stood around his parents' damaged and empty tomb at Suzhou Fenghuang Cemetery on Saturday.

Their fists were clenched and tears could be seen in their eyes.

His mother's urn was gone along with some personal belongings of his father.

Overcome by emotion, Shao's 75-year-old brother fainted.

Cemetery officials told them thieves probably took the urn. In most tomb robbing cases, the thieves call the family and demand money for the return of their relative's ashes.

Shao's family waited for that call, resolved to buy the urn back at any cost. They have not received such a call.

"Who would need those things - an urn and some clothing of my father - if they were not going to demand money?" asked Shao, a 65-year-old Shanghai resident.

Suzhou police told them their preliminary investigation showed no trace of a robbery. Officers added they had not ruled out the possibility cemetery workers dug out the tomb by mistake.

Looking for answers, Shao and his relatives spoke to cemetery official Shen Wenyun, who, after several days, told them they had nothing to do with the accident and they were unable to find the urn.

"It's very hard to trace it back," Shen told Shanghai Daily. "But we will work it out in negotiations with the family."

"The inaction of the cemetery officials is an insult to my parents and a torment to us," Shao said. "We never delayed paying the fee and now they don't even know what happened to a missing urn dug out in the cemetery."

The family paid for the plot in 1983 with usage rights until 2020. They paid about 3,000 yuan (US$457), which was a lot of money back then, for the plot and maintenance fees.

Shao's sister, Shao Shuping, told Shanghai Daily that they believe cemetery officials may have dug up the tomb deliberately so that they could sell it again for more than 100,000 yuan.

"The regulation says if a tomb is left empty for five years, the cemetery may take it back," Shao Shuping said.

Now they don't know how to pay tribute to their ancestors and they fear the cemetery will reclaim the plot.

"We hope someone will return the urn so she can rest in peace," Shao Huanyi said.


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