Is it OK to Raze Ancestral Graves?

Chinese graveyard. (CmdrGravy/Flickr)
Chinese graveyard. (CmdrGravy/Flickr)

A large-scale “ancestral grave-razing” movement was launched mid-year in Zhoukou, Henan Province. So far, over 2 million graves have been levelled. This is not an isolated incident. Earlier, the same movement also took place in Nanyang.

The reverence of ancestral graves is deemed an important part of traditional Chinese culture. The issue of ancestral grave-razing in Zhoukou has now aroused wide and intense public attention. Some scholars called for an immediate stop to the movement.

In an open letter, they addressed the action as “barbarism” that “seriously violates freedom of belief, ruins traditional Chinese culture and hurts the public’s feelings”. Nearly 300 people signed the appeal letter.

The signatories ranged from advocates for reviving Confucianism, professors at Tsinghua University and Peking University, along with many writers, scholars, lawyers and college students.

The letter states that throughout the nation’s history, the Chinese have esteemed ancestral virtues and revered Heaven. They hold rituals when putting a deceased relative in a coffin and burying it underground, believing that in this way, the body is finally laid to rest.

They view it as the last wish of a human life and a practice of showing filial piety to the elders. According to the appeal letter, the “ancestral grave-razing” movement has thus outraged human decency and Heaven, and that it violates legal order.


Chinese culture graves graveyards tombstones china

Chinese tombstones. (BillLongstaff/Flickr)

China’s media are unanimous in voicing opposition to the movement as well. The Global Times, under the People’s Daily, has raised its voice to stop the practice. The Southern Weekend questioned: “Must grave-razing go on in such a barbaric manner?” The Internet versions of the People’s Daily, Beijing News, and several other media all share this view.

The people in Zhoukou strongly protested against this policy. Local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities have forced civil servants to take the lead in razing their ancestral graves. They have been threatened with “suspension from duty” and “investigation by the discipline inspection commission”.

Even their salaries and promotions are affected by their performance regarding grave-razing. Farmers who resist grave-razing have been threatened with suspension of their social allowance, detention and even the possibility of being sent to a labour camp.

Zhu Xinxin, a freelance journalist in China, noted:

Zhu further comments that society’s administrative practices should have the participation of citizens and social organisations. However, the CCP, with its dictatorial rule, never thinks of sharing with the people. It never considers national traditions or public opinion. In the course of securing its rule, it has ended up being the biggest enemy of its own people.

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