A court in China has upheld a suspended death sentence for a man who abducted a person with Down’s syndrome so his body could be sold and substituted for another body due to be cremated to circumvent a government ban on burials.
The convicted man, identified by his surname Huang, was hired by a wealthy family in 2017 in Lufeng, Guangdong province who did not want to cremate a deceased relative, to find a substitute body for the cremation, according to the case verdict from Guangdong Higher People’s Court.
The deceased man whose family wanted a traditional burial, also surnamed Huang, died from cancer in February, 2017, and told his family before he died that he wished to be buried, according to the verdict.
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The victim, a man called Lin Shaoren who was then 36 and had Down’s syndrome, was picking rubbish along the road on March 1, 2017, near his home in Lufeng when Huang abducted him and made him drink a large volume of liquor.
He then placed the unconscious Lin into a coffin prepared in advance and sealed it with four steel nails, Huang told the court.
The coffin was carried to a crossroad and swapped with the other Huang’s coffin two days later when the family was due to send it to the funeral home.
Lin’s body was sent for cremation, while Huang’s body was secretly taken to a secluded area for a traditional burial.
The family paid a total of 107,000 yuan (US$16,345), of which 90,000 yuan went to Huang, the convicted murderer, while the rest went to a middleman surnamed Wen.
Lin was listed as a missing person by local police for two years before his family discovered he had been murdered in November, 2019, after police used surveillance footage to solve the crime, Sohu News reported.
The case, which gained public attention last week after local media picked up the story, reveals the lengths some Chinese families will go to to get around government efforts to promote cremation and eliminate traditional graveyard burials.
Local authorities in China have been pushing for cremation to save land for other uses and because it is seen as more environmentally friendly, but traditional grave burial remains popular amid traditional beliefs this is the only way the dead will be at peace.
The most recent figures available for deaths from 2019 show only about 52 per cent of those who died, or over 5 million corpses, were cremated that year, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Huang was given a suspended death sentence by a court in Shanwei in September 2020. He appealed to the Guangdong Higher People’s Court but this was dismissed in December last year.
According to the Guangdong province’s regulation on cremation, funeral homes should appoint specific staff to register corpses and double-check their identities before cremation.
However, mix-ups with dead bodies are not uncommon at funeral homes in China.
A woman in Henan province was shocked to find out that the body of her father, who died in his 50s, was mistaken and cremated as another man in his 70s in September, the Henan Business Daily reported.
Searches on China Judgements Online reveal more than 200 verdicts since 2012 for cases involving “trading corpses” and “stealing corpses”.