Starting on June 1, the Chinese city of Anqing will be prohibiting burials in coffins. In a push to conserve land, the Anqing government is mandating that anyone who dies after this month will have to be cremated. It’s already started confiscating coffins from well-prepared citizens, even reportedly sawing one woman’s coffin in half while she watched.
Many residents are finding this news extremely distressing, sometimes with tragic results. Ancestors are revered in China, and historically, that means bodies should be buried and family members should have a tomb to visit. Six elderly people in Anqing have reportedly killed themselves in order to beat the coffin deadline and not be forced to go against tradition. (The local government says there was no connection.)
But if you don’t have a thousands-of-years-old culture that requires you to bury dead relatives, a coffin ban doesn’t need to be traumatic. There are, after all, so many things you can do over your dead body. Here’s what to do if the government comes calling for your coffin:
You could have your ashes installed in the Neptune Society’s vast underwater cemetery — but if you’re into the idea of sleeping with the fishes, why not go one better and actually become part of a coral reef? Eternal Reefs will mix your remains with concrete and make it into a “pearl,” a hollow ball used for reef rehabilitation. Your family can personalize the pearl, which will then become part of a thriving underwater habitat.
Heat a swimming pool.
Get cremated in the British town of Redditch and you could help the city council save energy — and $23,000 a year — by contributing to its plan to keep the local sports center’s swimming pool warm with heat from the nearby crematorium.
Be eaten by your own mushroom suit.
Artist Jae Rhim Lee’s “Mushroom Death Suit” does pretty much what it says on the tin: it’s a suit, in which you die, and become mushrooms. The cotton suit is lined with mushroom spores, which quickly break down the body — embalmed with “liquid spore slurry” and brushed with culture medium — and turn it into part of the landscape. The overall effect is a little bit TRON and a little bit “Hannibal.”
Hitch a ride on a firework.
A UK company called Heavens Above Fireworks says that it will incorporate your cremated remains into a special fireworks display. Why just scatter your ashes when you can explode them? Modest displays cost $1,700, large ones are $3,400 and up.
Be a literal blood diamond.
LifeGem will have your ashes (or your pets) made into a clear or colored diamond — or, I guess, it’ll just take your ashes and send your family some diamonds in return, in which case hey, free diamond. (Well, not remotely free. Options range from $2,000 to $25,000, depending on how many diamonds you want and what size.) I’m not sure you can, like, DNA-test the diamonds to make sure the gem you get is made out of the carbon you sent. But it’s really the symbolism that counts.
Get fed to birds.
In Tibet, Mongolia, and some Chinese provinces, mountainous places where the soil is too rocky to dig a grave, Tibetan Buddhists practice “sky burial.” The body is disassembled and left for vultures, and the bones are then ground with a flour and tea mixture for other birds to eat. Sky burial is restricted near urban areas for sanitary reasons, and vultures are less plentiful than they used to be — plus, bodies treated with medication often disagree with them. But the ritual, though diminishing, persists. It is both grisly and beautiful.
Become a pencil.
Nadine Jarvis’s website seems to be down, but at least at one time, the artist was proposing to make cremains into pencils — 240 of them from the average human body, each stamped with the name of the departed. The people pencils were packed with a sharpener that collected shavings, eventually functioning as an urn — a memorial to both the deceased and many, many Friday crosswords.