See Mieng Tan and Jan Xiong Tan 2023

Independent scholars

A controversial birth to cremation: how cremation came about in Singapore [v]

Land burials as opposed to cremation were traditionally supported by the Chinese owing to their strong beliefs of the afterlife, filial piety, and geomancy. However, cremation rates in Singapore for the Chinese and non-Muslims have risen significantly from 10% in the early 1960s to 97% in 2017, becoming the country’s default body disposal method. It is thought that the Chinese were discouraged from burying their ancestors in favour of cremation because of the Singapore government’s persistent and intense acquisition of Chinese cemeteries to regain land for national development. However, historical records and literature illuminate three other narratives that led to the embracement of cremation in Singapore – British colonial conceptions of sanitation prompting their misinformed bias against Chinese cemeteries, the autonomy of Chinese clan associations in pushing for cremation, as well as religious modernisation. Non-participant observations at Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery in central Singapore suggest a fourth narrative – that of family dynamics, which spurs the preference for cremation over land burial in Singapore. Using primary and secondary data, this paper combines historical and social anthropological lenses to argue that cremation has been a controversial endeavour in Singapore since its inception and its significant uptake over the years is at the expense of traditional Chinese graveside rituals.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract