The new pandemic wave in China has continued to spread since its latest outbreak in December 2022. During the New Year, funeral homes in some cities bustled with staff, including off-duty staff.
Since December 2022, medical examination and treatment difficulties, waiting for cremation schedules, and preserving bodies have become hot topics on Chinese social media platforms. As a result, some funeral homes have posted recruitment notices, such as the funeral home in Linping District, Hangzhou, from January 9 to January 13.
Funeral service agencies began to increase staffing as early as 2020 when the pandemic broke out.
Although CCP authorities have withheld data on the number of deaths from the pandemic, the sudden change in the statistics of China’s funeral industry in 2020 shows a significantly increased need for funeral service staff. As a result, the service industry quickly recruited workers and bought new crematoriums.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of China has published the “Statistical Bulletin on the Development of Civil Affairs” over the years, which contains the basic data of the national funeral service industry for that year. For example, in 2015, the total number of employees in funeral service facilities in China was 83,851 people. However, from 2016 to 2019, the total number of employees in the funeral service industry continuously decreased; by 2019, it was down to 79,163 people.
However, in 2020, the total number of funeral service employees was 85,561, an increase of 6,398 people in just one year.
In 2021, the number of employees increased by 1,439 to 87,000.
In December 2009, China’s Ministry of Internal Affairs issued guidelines for continuing cremation and reforming burials to save on land use. As a result, the number of crematoriums nationwide increased over the next nine years (2010 to 2018).
However, A decrease of 44 crematoriums occurred in 2019.
However, in 2020, the number of crematoriums nationwide increased sharply, adding 219 furnaces, bringing the total to 6,619. In 2021, the increase was even greater, adding 424 furnaces, bringing the total to 7,043. As the pandemic continues into 2021, all regions of China have ramped up cremation capacity.
Judging from the official data released by the CCP, an increase in the number of crematoriums is associated with an increase in the cremation rate, but this is not the determining factor. Although the number of crematoriums decreased in 2019, the cremation rate still increased by 1.9 percent. In 2013 and 2014, the number of crematoriums increased, but the cremation rate declined for two consecutive years, with 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. Therefore, the demand for cremation services is likely to increase the number of crematoriums.
At the beginning of 2020, there were eight funeral homes in Wuhan. A report from Caixin on March 26, 2020, showed the scene of people waiting to collect the ashes at a funeral home in Hankou, Wuhan. The article said the line was over 650 feet (200 meters) long. Since the funeral home received the ashes, there have been long lines at funeral homes and public cemeteries.
According to funeral home staff in Hankou, February is the busiest month, and every male employee is called in to transport the bodies, the article said.
Wuhan Department of Internal Affairs issued a notice on January 28, 2020, that: “To increase transportation capacity, we enlisted the support of City Headquarters and Provincial Department of Internal Affairs to develop a service of funeral facilities. As a result, personnel, protective equipment, and equipment for funeral homes are now more abundant, and the capacity to receive and transport remains is improved, which help to ensure the quality of service.”
The severity of the pandemic in Wuhan in early 2020 was reflected in Wuhan’s health system. On December 26, 2019, Zhang Jixian, the Director of the Respiratory Department of the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Eastern and Western Medicine, recognized the COVID virus through a CT scan of the patient’s lungs, according to Sina. This doctor sounded the alarm about the pandemic across the country. Zhang Jixian said in an interview with China Central Television in February 2020, “There are too many patients and our medical staff is under a lot of pressure!” according to Changjiang Daily.