Society and Identity
Funerals in rural China are organized by family or lineage elders. The dead are buried on family or village land and the whole process, at least during the Maoist period, could be organized locally with minimal costs. But urban funerals require funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries. These services can be expensive, generating considerable profit, and the resulting industry require an ever-expanding workforce. Among the many forms of social transformation implied by China’s breathtakingly rapid urbanization has thus been the growth of the funerary industry and the production of workers to staff this industry. Heavily stigmatised, the industry draws some of its workforce from the rural migrants who do most of the dirty, dangerous and despised jobs in urban areas. But many other workers graduate from specialised university programs designed for the industry. This paper focuses on the first and largest of these programs—the School of Funerary Ritual at the Changsha Social Work University. Established in 1995, the school and its graduates have established networks that dominate the industry nationwide. The school both combats the stigmatization of the industry by transforming funerary work into a profession that requires a university degree and utilizes the labour shortage caused by this stigmatization to provide readily available jobs for its graduates and to increase the extent of solidarity among its graduates.