Sunday, September 19, 2010

Booming Business in China: Body Fishing

Tom Friedman among those hardest hit.
From his perch on an overhang above the Yellow River, Wei Jinpeng pointed to a fisherman's cove below and began counting his latest catch. He stopped after six and guessed that perhaps a dozen human corpses were bobbing in the murky waters.

The bodies were floating facedown and tethered by ropes to the shore, their mud-covered limbs and rumps protruding from the water.

Wei is a fisher of dead people. He scans the river for cadavers, drags them to shore with a small boat and then charges grieving families to recover their relatives' corpses. Wei said he kept the faces submerged to preserve their features. Any dispute about identity makes it harder to collect his bounty.

Wei doesn't worry about how the bodies got here, but he's heard tales from relatives who have come to claim the bodies, haunting portraits of average people crushed in the extraordinary stress of China's economic boom.

While some of the 80 to 100 bodies Wei gathers each year are victims of accidents and floods, he thinks most end up in the river after suicide or murder. There's no overt sign of a crime spree, though there's evidence of many people taking their own lives. Suicide is the leading cause of death for women in rural China, and 26 percent of all suicides in the world take place in the nation, according to the World Health Organization.

Most bodies apparently are swept downriver from Lanzhou, the provincial capital of Gansu in the country's northwest. The city boasts rows of new skyscrapers, built by a rush of poor laborers with few rights and businessmen notorious for operating above the law.

The work of "body fishers" has received increased attention in Chinese media lately, including the release of a documentary about a clan that works near Wei. One English-language state newspaper described the profession as "living on the dead"; it noted the filmmaker saw the family retrieving bodies almost daily.

Wei's fishing spot is about 18 miles from Lanzhou. A bend in the river and a hydroelectric dam slow the currents and give the bodies a place to float to the surface.

The relatives who come to claim the bodies whisper about a father who, unable to make ends meet with low pay, jumped off a bridge. Wei also has retrieved bodies with gagged mouths and bound hands, the hallmark of criminal gangs and corrupt police. There are also the remains of young women no one recognizes that Wei eventually cuts loose back into the river, he said.

"Most of the bodies that are not claimed by relatives are female migrant workers who had moved to Lanzhou," said Wei, who drives a red motorcycle and wears large circle-rimmed sunglasses. "Most of them have been murdered. ... Their families don't know; they think they're still working in Lanzhou."
Via Tim Blair.

Seems the Chinese have a serious problem discarding bodies.

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