More families choose sea burials

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Forty Beijing families said goodbye to their loved ones on Friday as their ashes were scattered into the waters of the Bohai Sea, off Tanggu, Tianjin.

The latest burials at sea brought the number of Beijing families to select sea burials since 1994 to 5,830.

Beijing residents spread flowers during a sea burial in Tianjin on Friday. Wang Jing / China Daily

Beijing residents spread flowers during a sea burial in Tianjin on Friday. [China Daily]

Such burials are being encouraged by the authorities as an environment-friendly alternative to the city's overcrowded cemeteries.

As many as 94 people took part in Friday's vigil, including a high school student who held a big branch of feverfew and a retired woman and a scientist who walked on crutches.

They all left together in two buses at 6 am for the trip that was sponsored by the municipal government. It was the second trip of 10 that will take place this year.

Free sea burials have been an option since 2009.

"The free service is currently only available to people with a Beijing hukou. Two family members are invited to the ceremony," said Wang Yunbin, manager of the Funeral Management Company, which is part of the Beijing Funeral Association (BFA).

BFA is the only organization offering sea burials in the capital. Before 2009, such burials cost 380 yuan.

Wang said around 70,000 people die in Beijing each year. A total of 481 families chose sea burials last year, which was double the number in 2008.

"A total of 5,830 people have been buried at sea since 1994, which has saved 20,000 sq m of land in Beijing," he said.

"The idea of sea burials is being accepted by more and more citizens and the demand for the ceremony is increasing. So, we decided to make the trip for smaller groups and arrange to hold such trips more frequently."

Yu Lianjie's mother passed away 19 years ago and her ashes had been stored at a cemetery in Shijingshan district until early 2009, when the cemetery was closed.

"We registered to have a sea burial ceremony for my mother last April while my father was still with us," Yu said. "At the end of 2009, my father passed away. The organizers were very caring and allowed us to hold the ceremony for both of my parents together."

Yu said many of the family's friends and colleagues are also thinking about sea burials.

"We believe that human beings are from nature, so we should return to nature after we die," Yu added.

She put petals into her parents' ash boxes and poured them together into the sea through a pipe at the end of the boat.

"Mom and dad, may you rest in peace," Yu said through tears.

"When I sent the pigeon flying away from my hands, I felt like I was seeing my parents' souls soar up in the sky.

"We will return to the sea next year to remember my parents," she said while watching the colorful petals float on the surface of the water.

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