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December 16, 2011

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Urns with unclaimed ashes proliferate

THE city's funeral authorities will look for the relatives of "ownerless ash" starting next year as more urns are occupying too much space, officials said yesterday.

The Shanghai Funeral and Interment Association said the city's funeral parlors and cemeteries have at least 10,000 urns of ash that no one claims or visits, so their stocking is not paid for. Every year the number of urns of unclaimed ash increases by about 1,000, the association says.

Association officials said they will publish announcements in newspapers, and if no one comes to claim the urns, the ash will be buried at local cemeteries.

According to Chinese tradition, the best time to bury human ash is on the winter solstice, which falls on December 21, 22 or 23. Therefore, after a body is cremated after a funeral, relatives usually stock the ash at the funeral parlor or cemetery until that day. The normal stocking fee is 100 yuan (US$15.70) a year. But some ash has been left for years or even decades, with payments stopped long ago, officials said.

"According to the regulation, the ash is regarded as 'ownerless' if the relatives don't pay the fee for more than a year," said Wang Hongjie, director of the association. "But we won't bury the ash by ourselves so soon as we always hope that relatives can come to claim them."

Wang cited different reasons for loved ones' ashes to be abandoned.

"Some families move abroad entirely, some died before managing to deal with the ash, and some just don't care about it," he said. "But as far as we are concerned, not many people just abandon their family members' ash without reasons."

Wang said that despite the placement of announcements in newspapers this year, no one has come to claim a family member's ashes.


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