2017-12-14 13:13:34

A hotel in northern China’s Shanxi province made a guest pay 70,000 yuan ($10,600) in compensation for bringing his late mother’s ashes through its doors, local newspaper Shanxi Evening Post reported Tuesday. The guest is now pursuing an extortion claim against the hotel, which argued that the man’s actions violated local taboos.

On Oct. 1, Qin Anping, a 63-year-old former law enforcement officer, and his family checked into a hotel in Lucheng, Shanxi — their ancestral hometown — ahead of his mother’s burial ceremony the following day. Among his luggage was an urn containing his mother’s ashes.

As Qin was unloading funeral garlands from his vehicle, hotel owner Bai Guangbin spotted him and demanded 100,000 yuan in damages for violating local customs.

“This is such a taboo for our hotel,” said Bai Pengcheng, the hotel owner’s son, according to Shanxi Evening Post. The Bai family also claimed they had suffered financial losses, as they had rejected other guests that day because they believed it wasn’t acceptable to have living guests under the same roof as the remains of the dead. They said Qin’s family hurt them psychologically with their unforgivably inauspicious actions.

Though death is considered taboo in Chinese culture, there is no law barring guests from bringing ashes into a hotel.

Qin initially refused to pay up, but the hotel retaliated by holding two of the funeral procession’s vehicles hostage. Though Qin called the local police, the conflict continued until nearly midnight, when the two parties finally reached an armistice. According to an apology letter seen by Sixth Tone, Qin agreed to pay 70,000 yuan to the hotel as compensation for “psychological damage.”

Qin later reported Bai and his hotel to the municipal police force. According to a photo of the case file report seen by Sixth Tone, municipal police have opened an extortion investigation.

“I did nothing wrong!” Qin told Sixth Tone. “They just used the custom as an excuse to make a fuss.”

Ouyang Xiaobin, a Shanghai-based lawyer specializing in criminal law, told Sixth Tone that criminal charges were unlikely to stand, as the victim must be forced to do something out of fear for the case to be considered extortion. “Judging from the materials and videos we have, I would say Qin’s family were mostly under stress rather than fear,” he said.

However, Ouyang continued, the hotel also had no legal grounds to claim compensation. The lawyer suggested that the issue could be better handled as a civil case, especially as the compensation was exorbitant. Even if a court accepts that the hotel owner suffered psychological damage, he said, “to my understanding, the compensation is just too high.”

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: A man holds an urn filled with ashes in Fuzhou, Fujian province, June 12, 2014. Lin Lianghua/VCG)