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Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 16:12 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Remembering the dead - with beads

It is hoped the beads will encourage more cremations

Asia analyst Angie Knox reports

The debate in South Korea over cremation versus burial has soared to new heights, as the country struggles with a shortage of space.

Recently, the founder of SK, one of the country's top five conglomerates, was cremated after his death in accordance with his wishes.

Choi Chung-hyun's decision set a new trend in this deeply conservative country where there is a strong tradition of burial. Since then, several prominent politicians - including the mayor of Seoul - have said they will choose cremation when they die.

They hope their decision will set an example for millions of other South Koreans.

Each year an area the size of Yoido, Seoul's Manhattan island, is swallowed up by new cemeteries. And as burial plots become scarcer, they are becoming more and more expensive.

Yet most South Koreans prefer to bury their dead so they can visit and tend their graves as a sign of respect and in accordance with the Confucian tradition of revering ancestors.

Cremation is much less popular, as the ashes are usually scattered.

Enter Kim Sang-guk, head of the Hanul Cultural Centre which is committed to reforming funeral customs.

He has developed a technique of cremation at ultra-high temperatures which yields not ashes, but a kind of ceramic bead.

Mr Kim says the jewel-like blue-green beads provide a permanent remembrance of the deceased, and are easily stored in the home, temple or mausoleum.

Mr Kim may find South Korea's Buddhists easier to convince than the Confucianists: for centuries senior Buddhist monks have been cremated on funeral pyres and the remains preserved in stupas.

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