A Chinese court has upheld a suspended death sentence for a man found guilty of killing a stranger with Down syndrome as a part of an elaborate body swap plan. According to a South China Morning Post report, the convicted man, identified by his surname Huang, abducted and murdered a stranger to cremate him in place of another deceased to circumvent burial regulations.
Burial is prohibited in many parts of China, including Shanwei city of Guangdong province where the incident took place. In 2017, a wealthy family hired Huang to provide them with a substitute body for cremation as they wanted a traditional burial for the deceased family member who died from cancer, as per court documents cited in media reports.
The family assumed that Huang would look for another dead body but he killed someone to fulfil the deal. The convict spotted a man, Lin Shaoren, with Down’ syndrome, picking litter from the street and convinced him to get into a car. He then gave alcohol to the victim and put him into a coffin after he passed out, Huang told the court.
Days later, Huang passed on the coffin to the family in exchange for 107,000 yuan ($16,300), of which 17,000 yuan went to a middleman who has since passed away. The family cremated the coffin pretending it to be their own dead relative and buried the relative’s actual body secretly in a traditional manner, per reports.
The victim was listed as a missing person and it took two years for the police to uncover the crime and track down the suspect using surveillance footage. Huang was given a suspended death sentence in September 2020 and it was upheld by the Guangdong Higher People’s Court in December 2020. The case gained public attention last week after local media did a feature on the victim’s family.
Local authorities in China have been pushing for cremations to save land and discourage extravagant burial ceremonies. But traditional burial remains popular and the case reveals the lengths some families go to get around the ban. Citing data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, SCMP reported that only about 52 per cent of those who died in 2019 were cremated that year.