No Room to Die in Hong Kong

Land is at a premium in Hong Kong. We have hard barriers to growth – some natural, some man-made. The main island of Hong Kong is confined by water and steep mountains. The northward expansion of this nation is stopped by the border with Mainland China. This scarcity of land is one reason property prices are among the highest int he world (see my earlier post).

Now we’re running out of room to die.

Happy Valley, Hong Kong (Courtesy of CNNgo)

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department manage the public cemeteries and cremation services for Hong Kong. Given the limited space for burials, cremation is encouraged through pricing and limited space. Fees for burial are HK$6,500 (US$838). This is a rental. After six years the body must be exhumed and cremated. If you fail to comply the body is exhumed, cremated and ashes are put in a communal grave. Of the four public cemeteries, three require proof the deceased is an indigenous villager of the island where the cemetery is located. You can download an application here.

Given the sparsity of land cremation is encouraged. Cremation costs HK$1,300 (US$168). You can apply for cremation here.  The problem then becomes where to store the ashes.

For tourists to Hong Kong it is unusual to walk along Hollywood Road. Among the mix of antique shops, art galleries and high-end eateries are coffin shops selling unique-shaped vessels. Perhaps it isn’t one of those retail items you think about until it is needed.

Hollywood Road Coffin Shop

Funerary niches are small storage spaces available for the placement of cremated ashes. These are housed in a columbariums which offer space for meditation, reflection and prayer. Of those in Hong Kong 80% are government-run and the remainder are private.

In space-challenged Hong Kong there hasn’t been an investment in new columbariums to meet demand. Grieving relatives need to store ashes privately until spaces become available. In a Letter to the Editor of The South China Morning Post, Julia Lau of the Town Planning Board points out these deficiencies:

“We ensure affordable housing is available to people on lower incomes…Why do we not also have affordable “housing” for the deceased?”

An ageing population has Hong Kong facing a challenge. In the 1970s when present funerary policy was created the annual death rate was 20,000. This year 42,700 people in Hong Kong will die. In 30 years that will increase to 82,400 deaths per year.

The living – and the dead – are placing enormous demands on Hong Kong’s limited land supply.

Liked the Post? Take the Tour!

For an unusual insight to Hong Kong’s history, take a tour of the Happy Valley cemetery founded in 1842. Learn more here.  While I can’t comment on this specific tour, a highlight to a visit of New Orleans many years ago was the local cemetery. By studying the dead you learn a lot about the living.

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