Tombs and Opium in Qingtian


My mother-in-law grew up in the mountains near Fushan in the prefecture of Qingtian (pronounced CHING-tien), inland Zhejiang province. Though the prefecture’s name means “Green Field”, it’s pretty poor and has been a major emigration area for decades. The owners and staff of many or most Chinese restaurants in Sweden are from Qingtian. Yesterday we rode a train for nearly seven hours from Hangzhou to get to the district capital, and all along the way we were accompanied by a line of enormous new concrete stilts on which a future fast railroad will run. Next time the trip may take only an hour and a half.

This morning we went up to Fushan to see the ancestral hamlet and pay our respects to some of the ancestors. We had a wonderful day, and here I’ll only touch upon three of the things I experienced.

To begin with, as you can see above, Qingtian is extremely beautiful. Endless vistas of steep terraced mountain sides, cloud-obscured peaks and mirror-like rice paddies, and no signs of tourism though the roads are good. Go to Qingtian city on the valley floor, stay in a hotel and make day trips with a taxi. Breathtaking!


Secondly, we came upon a small field bearing ripe opium poppy right beside the road. The farmer (who looked perfectly healthy) happily informed us that he smokes the stuff sometimes but that it is mainly used in cooking pig’s trotters. “Everybody’s always very merry when we have trotters for dinner.”

Thirdly, I learned about an ongoing conflict between the farmers and the Party officials of the area. The Party has decided that, bearing China’s huge population in mind, too much agricultural land is being wasted on the construction of low buildings and traditional hillside terrace tombs. Modern Chinese people are encouraged to live in high rises and bury their dead in Western-style flat cemeteries. The mountain farmers, however, prefer their old way of doing things, and they either can’t get or don’t apply for building permits. They just build anyway and hope for the best. The authorities respond by sending out semi-official house-and-tomb vandalism crews.


Tombs and low houses built before some recent cutoff date are exempt from these rules and are never vandalised. Therefore new burials are now often added to old tombs by families who might have been able to afford new ones. But I saw many new house ruins and many vandalised new tombs. When somebody builds a new tomb, however lavish, they try to make it look old and uncared-for by covering it in brush, which must be rather confusing to an ancestor who expects to be venerated by his descendants. The tomb above is unusually large and lavish, covered in brush by its builders and vandalised by the Party — and it was built last year.

I also saw large amounts of destroyed tomb stonework lying around or re-used for road pavement. A lot of it seems to come from new tombs vandalised by the authorities, but other fragments look like they may come from old tombs that have been removed to make room for new ones — which might perhaps save the new structure from vandalism as long as there are no descendants of the original tomb’s inhabitants around to complain. Anyway, for reason’s of taboo, there is no aftermarket for used tomb sculpture.


7 thoughts on “Tombs and Opium in Qingtian

  1. given that kind of landscape, i’d expect western-style flat cemeteries to not be very practicable — flat land seems like it might be at a premium there.


  2. You could grow crops over a flat cemetery, and even better if you lay the headstones flat and flush with the ground.

    Isaac Asimov said we’re all going to end up living underground, with all land surface devoted to agriculture, fertilized with human wastes and ground-up human corpses.


  3. Do you think you could sell them the idea of making their tombs more like this? At least the Party goons would have to put a shift in then.


  4. nick williams: “Interesting that government officials vanadalise these tombs.”

    Not really. It’s the same sort of thuggish tactics that the corrupt Chinese government used against farmers around Shanghai.

    They hire a bunch of Red Shirts (see: Brown Shirts, Black Shirts) and send them in to beat up, threaten, burn and injure, but only kill one or two, not a lot. I idea is to eventually and quietly get everyone to leave.



  5. semi-official house-and-tomb vandalism crews

    Which just goes to show how part of the Chinese elite is still married to statism – here in the West, such work would be left to a free market of competing, private criminal mobs.


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