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One of Yiko’s 3D printed urns, aiming to personalize and promote cremation over burial

China’s burgeoning O2O industry is tackling some of the biggest challenges in urban life, and now it’s tackling the problem of urban death.

The price tag for a space in Beijing’s major graveyards has risen as high as 400,000 RMB, double price for the same size area in a high-end residential flat, but China’s funeral industry has remained relatively stagnant.

“The funeral industry has been declining for a long time, but it’s also a huge market space,” says Yiko founder Ma Lei said.

Ma worked in hospital, where he had a front row seat to Chinese funeral culture. The idea of setting up a funeral platform had been on his mind for more than 10 years when he founded Yiko. He also worked in the real estate industry for six years, finding and designing cemetery plots.

Yiko provides an all-in-one funeral service, including online genealogies, organ donation services, and funerary product sales as well as cemetery plots, hospice care services and counseling.

Ma joined Feimalv, an accelerator batch in Shanghai providing funding, resources, and services to help him build up the platform. 

One of the biggest problems in China’s funeral industry is the limited supply of graveyards. “There’s no room for graveyards in China now,” says Ma. “In ten years, there will not even be enough graveyard space for Shanghai people.”

The Chinese government has talked of reforming the regulations on funeral and interment control since 2005, but so far has not made substantial progress. 

Yiko wants to change the public perception of burial customs, to raise awareness of cremation as a substitute.

“Chinese people are not so familiar with cremation, and we want to help them change this perception.” He says the Buddhist conception of rebirth is helping him to build a more positive image of cremation.

Yiko also provides a range of 3D printed funeral urns to help sweeten the cremation deal. A name and message are carved on its surface, which combined with the cremation takes about 12 hours to finish. Sold at 11,000 RMB ($ 1,700 USD), the box is preserved for 1,000 years, according to Ma. The figure looks like a house that sits on a cloud, depicting the Chinese perception that when the deceased go to heaven, they live above the cloud.

“Through the death, we get to value our lives. It makes us care for the people around us,” says Ma.

Image Credit: Yiko