Cars from Beijing crowded the parking lot of Shanhe City Lingshan Pagoda Cemetery days before Tomb-Sweeping Day on April 4.
Located about 50 kilometers from Beijing, the 50-hectare cemetery is one of the most popular burial sites for Beijing residents.
The cemetery's management company is even headquartered in downtown Beijing's central business district to better serve its clients in the capital.
"Rest assured, the tombs here are much bigger than in Beijing," an employee surnamed Chen told a potential client.
Most cemeteries in Chinese cities are full, so burials in neighboring cities have become popular. About 80 percent of plots in cemeteries in Hebei cities surrounding Beijing are sold to Beijing residents.
Larger tomb space and lower prices are the biggest draws. Chen said the Lingshan cemetery has 30,000 grave plots, and a third have been sold. "We are offering a nice discount ahead of the Tomb-sweeping Day," said Chen.
Besides the cemetery in Sanhe, there are other big cemeteries in Yixian county and Zhuozhou city in Hebei.
SCARCE LAND, HUGE PROFITS
Traditional Chinese beliefs dictate that burial is the proper way to handle a dead body. In order to show filial piety, many Chinese invest heavily in their parents' tombs. Death has become a rather expensive business.
A look into cemetery companies showed their profit margins were extremely high. Fucheng Wufeng, parent company of the Lingshan cemetery, reported a gross profit margin of 83.3 percent in 2015. It aims to make 100 million yuan in profits this year.
Fu Shou Yuan, which owns cemeteries in several Chinese provinces, has also turned a profit. Its average grave price was 80,211 yuan (about 12,340 U.S. dollars) in 2015.
According to an official report, the average cost of a funeral service in Beijing was 70,000 yuan (about 10,700 U.S. dollars) in 2015.
Qiao Kuanyuan, an expert with the China Funeral Association, said grave plots have become expensive due to land scarcity, and government calls for eco-friendly alternatives have been countered by old beliefs.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs and eight other ministries jointly released a circular about eco-burials and efficient use of burial sites in February. It called on people to support group burials of family members in a single grave site.
Wang Hongjie, director of the Shanghai Funeral Industry Association, said Shanghai has been promoting group burials since 2010.
But not all accept the new methods. Cemetery managers complain group burials drain their profits, and it is difficult to add chambers without damaging the existing tomb structure.
Hang Juan, publicity officer of the Nanjing funeral reform and management department, said more campaigns will be organized to persuade the public not to cling to "mianzi," or face, when planning funeral services for the deceased and switch to environment-friendly burials instead, such as burying ashes under trees or scattering them into the sea.