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April 3, 2013

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Home » Metro » Education

Making a difference to disliked profession

IT is a job that is still despised and looked down upon, but some brave few are venturing into a profession which was unthinkable just a few years ago.

Four years ago, a mass job fair recruited 108 college graduates to work in the funeral and interment industry.

To everyone's surprise, about 80 percent of them have stayed on the job while the number of youngsters taking it up as a profession continues to rise, the Shanghai Funeral and Interment Association claimed in a report yesterday.

The youngsters have defied strong oppositions from family members, misunderstanding from friends, fears and their own internal struggle to stay in the industry.

Their reasons for hanging in there are higher pay, stability and interest in job.

Zheng Wenjing, a Shanghainese bachelor degree holder from the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, has been working as a memorial service attendant at the Longhua Funeral Parlour for four years after being recruited in the fair.

"Every time I heard the funeral hymn, I could not hold back my tears," Zheng recalled her early experience of working at a funeral parlour.

Once a professional volleyball player, Zheng said she was drawn to the industry because it was unique - and mysterious.

The economics major has worked at many different positions at the parlour such as hosting the event, funeral service person and even applying makeup. Now, she is responsible for looking at the business side of the parlour.

"It is by no means an easy job, rather it is challenging, which was totally different from what I had imagined," Zheng said. She met her future husband here as well.

According to the report, 59 out of 71 college graduates who worked at local funeral parlours and cemeteries managed by the Shanghai Funeral Service Center are still working in the industry. They include 29 graduates who have bachelor degrees and three postgraduates.

In recent years, the funerals parlours and cemeteries have been recruiting university students, "bringing fresh blood into the industry," said Wang Hongjie, director of the association.

For a long time, people in the industry were discriminated against, but Wang said the situation has improved with the coming of these youngsters.

A Japanese movie Okuribito (Departures) portrays the profession of those who prepare the dead in a subtle way.

Strong curiosity

Peng Caihong, a 25-year-old Hunan Province native with a diploma from Changsha Social Work College, is the real version of the character in the film. She makes up the corpses at the parlour. She has worked at the parlour for two years.

"I choose the major (antiseptic and plastic surgery) at the college and the job out of curiosity," Peng said, adding that her parents voiced strong opposition at first, but she stood firm. "I told them I would follow the path and they finally relented."

Peng said she was very nervous the first time she dressed up a corpse. "My heart beat faster, and my hands were sweating," she recalled.

Cleaning, combing, sterilizing and making up, Peng said she makes up about 20 corpses on average every day. The use of foundation make-up depends on the condition of skin, and different lip colors are used. The idea being to make the deceased look as close to the living as possible. Sometimes, it takes more than an hour to retouch the faces which are in bad conditions, like after accidents.

"It's like the art of carving and painting," Peng said.

She treats every corpses solemnly.

"Every time when I hear people say that the dead looked natural, peaceful and just the same as they lived, I get a sense of fulfillment," she said.

Looking back, Peng says she has become more mature.

"I was very naive before I entered the industry. I see a lot of deaths. The job has changed my view of the world.

"I have not thought of leaving this place," Peng said.

Deng Jie, who is from the same college as Peng, is responsible for taking over corpses at the parlour. He takes pictures of the corpses and checks their information and belongings.

Attractive pay packet

"I want to relieve the burden of my family," Deng, who lives with his mother after his parents divorced, said. He said one of the reasons he was in this job was because of the pay.

"Even today, I don't talk directly about my job when with my friends. I tell them I work in the civil affairs industry."

Deng is pursuing a girl, who understands his job.

"I plan to stay as the industry has potentials," he said.

Deng said he was deeply moved once when the relatives of the deceased knelt down to express their gratitude to him.

"About 60 percent of our employees are college students, with just one quitting the job out of 10," said Wu Yibo, general manager of the Fushouyuan Cemetery. "We are eager to lure more young professionals and plan to recruit 100 graduates by 2014," Wu said.

Miao Qing, who works in interment culture research at the Binhaiguyuan Cemetery, is a PhD in history from the Shanghai Normal University.

"I hope to do something that connects me closely with the society, and the field lacks researchers," he said.

"The place is quiet, which makes it perfect to carry out research. And I am interested in the interment culture," Miao said.

Miao has worked at the cemetery for three years.


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