Two officials in China’s Guangdong province were arrested for allegedly buying corpses so they could meet government cremation quotas.
Police from Beiliu City investigating body thefts in the region apprehended a grave robber with the surname Zhong in July, Chinese news site Xinhuanet reported.
Zhong admitted to visiting graveyards in local villages at night, and stealing more than 20 corpses, which he placed in body bags and transported by motorcycle to nearby Guangdong province. Zhong told police he then sold the bodies to two officials from Guangdong.
Police arrested the two suspected officials — surnamed He and Dong — who were in charge of funeral management reform. They told police they purchased the corpses in order to meet the government’s cremation regulations.
China has a long tradition of ancestor worship, which usually requires families bury relatives and build a tomb to honor them. But recently, the country has been encouraging cremation to conserve limited land space for farming and development.
In He and Dong's towns, local government has demanded a specific number of corpses be cremated each month, based on the total local population of the previous year. The two officials sought to buy a number of bodies and send them to funeral parlor for cremation.
Police say Dong bought 10 corpses for 3000 Yuan (nearly $500) each, while He only paid 1500 Yuan (about $245) for each body.
The deal was supposedly "approved" by the government, Xinhua reported, and authorities continue to investigate the claims.
Reacting to news of the cremation quota, locals began burying the corpses of their relatives in secrecy.
Body theft cases have become more frequent in the region, sometimes spurring family members to take turns guarding a relative’s grave. Many villagers from Guangxi recently reported the graveyards of their family members were excavated and corpses stolen.
Many Chinese believe a good location for an ancestral tomb can bring good luck and happiness to living relatives. Damaging tombs can spell disaster, so it’s taboo to dig up the tombs of others' ancestors in traditional Chinese culture.