China's frugality drive now targets fancy funerals

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BEIJING (AP) - China's ruling Communist Party announced Friday that it is banning members from holding lavish funerals for their relatives as part of a drive against waste, corruption and pomp.

The ban was contained in a party circular carried by state media that also said party members were forbidden from using funerals to collect condolence money from attendees. Such gifts are intended to defray costs, but often serve instead as bribes in exchange for favors.

"Party members and officials should set an example with simple, civilized funerals," the document said. It said party officials should cremate the bodies of their loved ones after death and avoid excessively large gravestones.

Honoring the dead can be an extravagant affair in many parts of China, with ceremonies sometimes featuring professional mourners, uniformed marching bands and motorcades of limousines.

The rituals are also increasingly a way to demonstrate rising social status and the accumulation of excess wealth and influence, but extravagant ceremonies have been criticized for highlighting China's burgeoning income gap.

"Government officials take advantage of expensive funerals to take bribes, while those who offered money in bribes naturally seek returns," said Hu Xingdou, a political economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology. "The public certainly feels angry about officials' luxurious funerals. They may feel envious, and it also mirrors the gap between the rich and the poor."

The directive was the latest in an austerity campaign spearheaded by President Xi Jinping to cut through luxury, formality and waste among party and government officials that have alienated and angered many ordinary citizens.

The party has already issued a five-year moratorium on the construction of new government buildings and banned the use of public funds for lavish banquets and expensive gifts such as moon cakes.

Fancy funerals came into the spotlight in October when state broadcaster China Central Television reported that a village cadre held a funeral for his wife that included a 3-kilometer (2-mile)-long procession with a marching band and motorcade that stopped traffic for hours. It also raised suspicions about how a village official earning a humble salary was able to afford the extravagance.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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