China’s biggest private funeral firm eyes Belt and Road business

BY XIE YU, SCMP

They make your clothes, your smartphones, your electronics and your cars, among other numerous items of daily use. And now a Chinese company wants to handle your funeral too.

One of the latest companies to answer Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call to build a “shared future for mankind” is Fu Shou Yuan, the country’s biggest funeral services provider.

“President Xi said it was a target for China to build ‘a community with a shared future for mankind’. We think the service by our company provides will make sure life ends well. Which makes it an important part of his call,” Wu Yibo, the company’s assistant president, said last week.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Asia Funeral and Cemetery Expo & Conference in Hong Kong.

The company is keen on expanding its footprint in markets part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” after selling a cremator and signing an agreement with local authorities to become a cemetery operator in Simferopol on the Crimean Peninsula last year.

Simferopol
Simferopol

“Just like in China, burials are more acceptable than cremations in many Belt and Road countries.

“The pilot project in Crimea proves our cremator offers a higher value for money and quality than similar machines made in Germany. It passes all kinds of environmental protection standards, with zero emissions,” he said.

There is room for growth at home too. Fu Shou Yuan is among private companies granted licences by Beijing to operate cremation businesses in the 1990s. The sector is controlled by the government. It has since ridden a surge in property prices and at the end of last year, had a saleable area of 2.2 million square metres available for burial plots, according to its annual report. No Surprises then that it is favoured by investors for its access to cemetery land.

Wu, however, said the company wanted to diversify away from selling cemetery space by offering more end-of-life value-added services. The company wanted to improve the revenue contributed by these services up to 20 per cent from the current 10 per cent in the next five years, he said.

“Surprisingly, young people who are in their 30s and 20s make up 70 per cent of our pre-need funeral contracts, indicating a modernised attitude towards death,” Yi Hua, the company’s chief branding officer, said.

She said it was also developing services such as family tree making, film and digital photo albums, and pre-need funeral services.

Fu Shou Yuan 3

China, which has world’s biggest population, only had 1,760 funeral homes by the end of 2017, with 6,361 cremators, according to the ministry of civil affairs. There is a funeral home for every 1,000 people in Japan, Wu said, and one for every 2,000 people in the United States.

“There is great room for us to improve in China,” he added.

China will need more funeral homes as its population ages. These new players will, however, come up against the challenge of land shortages, while existing companies will need to upgrade their equipment to meet new environmental standards. Fu Shou Yuan has an edge on both fronts, Wu said.

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