Fushouyuan, a graveyard in Shanghai. (Photo/Xinhua)
Funeral homes have never been a highly revered business in China, but the emergence of Fu Shou Yuan has begun re-landscaping the practice — and people's preconceptions of the grave.
Fu Shou Yuan Group now boasts eight branches in Shanghai, Chongqing, Jinan, Hefei and Zhengzhou, with Shanghai Fu Shou Yuan the most famous of the branches.
"Burial used to be a highly neglected business in China but Fu Shou Yuan has gradually changed Chinese people's traditional concepts," says Wang Jisheng, president of Fu Shou Yuan Group. In running the business, Wang aims to satisfy the psychological needs of people and induce them to transform their fear of death into a respect and awe for life.
The business of burials in China is understandably a huge market. With a population of more than 1.3 billion living, the country witnesses 9.1 million deaths annually.
A graduate of Anhui Normal University and former teacher and business manager, Wang stepped into the grave business in 1994 after reading an investment project which shows that a burial company in Shanghai, with 300,000 annual deaths, can rack up revenue of over 10 million yuan (US$1.63 million) a year simply by selling 50,000 plots at 3,000 yuan (US$490) apiece.
The initial development of Fu Shou Yuan failed to meet expectations but Wang managed to enliven the business by organizing a number of public service events. In June 1996, a Shanghai explorer, Yu Cunshun, died in an expedition to Lop Nur, a dried-up salt lake in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Wang organized a photo memorial exhibition for the explorer and raised 380,000 yuan (US$62,000) in donations for the family of the deceased. Greatly moved, Yu's family asked to have his cremated remains buried in Shanghai Fu Shou Yuan, greatly boosting its profile. Sales of Shanghai Fu Shou Yuan jumped to 27.6 million yuan (US$4.5 million) in the year, compared with a mere 2 million yuan (US$325,000) of previous year.
In the five years following this jump start, Wang's graveyard became the resting place of over 600 deceased celebrities. He specially crafted tombstones for their graves. A memorial museum displaying the trinkets of the deceased celebrities has gone up inside the funeral home, attracting, with its free admission, numerous visitors during weekends and holidays.
Wang has discovered that the proper blending of public services and commerce has endowed his mortuary with a human touch, the key behind his Fu Shou Yuan brand. To cast away the somber atmosphere of a graveyard, Wang has endeavored to beautify the landscape to look more like a park.