Want to sucker overzealous developers? Build a fake graveyard

Illustration for article titled Want to sucker overzealous developers? Build a fake graveyard

At least that seems to be the scam in China. Over at Asia Obscura, blogmaster Dean Pickles has reported seeing scattershot graveyards appearing on farmland throughout the Beijing suburbs.


When Pickles asked a friend about these strange graves, he learned that this was a con to pocket government payouts:

"Ha," he laughed, "I don't think those are real graves. There probably are no bodies down there."

Fake graves? Outside our Tongzhou village??

"Yes. The villagers know that the land is going to be developed, and the government will only give them so much money. But if it's a graveyard, they may pay more. So the local villagers build fake graves on their fields, to get more money. You know the expression 'shǎjīng?'" I didn't. "It means stupid-clever. That's what they are. Shajing shajing." He laughed at his own expression, as he repeated it again. "傻精傻精."


Weird! Looks like they're engaging in some voodoo economics (rimshot). In any case, I suppose I'd rather live next to a fake graveyard than a ghost mall.

[Photo via Wooland Hotel. Hat tip to Steve!]

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I kind of think this story needs a little more cultural context. Did Pickles' friend think the villagers were "stupid-clever" because he thought it wouldn't work, or because it would? (Just on the face of it, "stupid-clever" suggests to me "someone who thinks he's being clever, but is in fact being stupid", but of course it could be interpreted in other ways — which do the Chinese using it mean?)

Further: my immediate thought is, okay, the villagers get a bigger payout for the faux "graveyard", but what happens when the develops excavate and DON'T find bodies? Can they notify any authorities that they were the victim of a scam? Does the villager get penalized for perpetrating a scam? Does anyone care, or after the money's exchanged hands, is that it? I mean, in the U.S., there'd be a lawsuit, if not an actual criminal prosecution; but is that not true in China?

Or are some Chinese burial practices such that it wouldn't be easy to prove whether the graveyard was fake, even with excavation? The Chinese friend mentions "there are no bodies down there", but just off the top of my head, I wonder if they would create graves that looked the same even if they merely interred ashes? Would the developers not care enough to try to test for human remains? (If they found any old ashes, would they test them?)