Not unlike its better known counterpart, the “one-child policy,” funeral reform (binzang gaige 殡葬改革) is a controversial governmental initiative crafted in response to China’s population crisis. Over the past thirty years, and even more aggressively over the recent decade, government officials and their private sector partners have ventured to rationalize the spatial distribution of human remains and to reduce the overall number of newly buried Chinese corpses through the simultaneous promotion of cremation. The campaign has proceeded at a staggering rate, with well over ten million corpses being exhumed and relocated over the past two decades alone. If the one-child policy has targeted domains of formidable power and intimacy – birth, the reproductive body, and descent – burial reform has targeted the no less potent realms of death, the body after life, and ancestry. To understand contemporary China, we must set our eyes on the grave as well as the cradle. Melding archival, oral historical, material culture, and Digital Humanities methods, this project will examine grave relocation from the perspectives of history, anthropology, religious studies, geography, economics, and political science.
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