Grave robbers make killing as ghost marriages resurface in China

A scene from the Hong Kong cinematic classic, ‘A Chinese Ghost Story’. A spate of corpse thefts in rural Shanxi province suggests the old custom of ‘ghost marriages’ has resurfaced. — Screen grab from YouTube
A scene from the Hong Kong cinematic classic, ‘A Chinese Ghost Story’. A spate of corpse thefts in rural Shanxi province suggests the old custom of ‘ghost marriages’ has resurfaced. — Screen grab from YouTube

BEIJING, March 2 — In the remote parts of China, even the dead bachelors stand a good chance of getting hitched these days after a bizzare Chinese custom made a come back.

The Chinese once prescribed to an unworldy custom known as “Ghost Marriages” where men who die single are married off to a female corpse.  

This custom was forbidden after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

However, a spate of corpse thefts in rural Shanxi province pointed to the fact the old custom of ‘ghost marriages’ has resurfaced.    

On February 23, Xinhua News Agency reported that southern Shanxi’s Hongtong county has witnessed at least three dozen thefts of female corpses over the past three years.

According to Xinhua, in ghost marriage rituals, female skeletons are reinforced with steel wires and clothed before they buried alongside dead bachelors as “ghost brides”.

Many rural folks believe if a male family member dies unmarried, they have to find them a companion to keep them company in their afterlife. There are a host of other reasons as well. Moreover, they believe failure to find a burial partner for the unmarried male relatives will bring bad luck.

Demand pushes corpse price up to 100,000 yuan

Ghost marriage rituals were practised throughout China’s feudal era and were especially popular in the 10th century during the Song Dynasty.

After the custom was outlawed, rural Chinese people continued with it using pictures or dummies made of paper or dough.

According to Xinhua, due to the rising wealth of the Chinese, the practice of using real corpses has returned to some rural areas of Shanxi province, northern Henan province and Shaanxi province.

Xinhua also quoted China Folk Literature and Art Association deputy director Chang Sixin as saying there were even matchmaking agents and companies to pair dead bachelors with corpses of women.

Laws fail to deter corpse snatchers      

According to Chinese criminal law, those who steal or defile a corpse are subjected up to three years in prison. However, the light punishment has failed to deter corpse snatchers from their creepy money making enterprise.

Those desperate to find a corpse could spend up to 100,000 yuan (about RM64,300) for a fresh female corpse, while a body that has been buried for decades could fetch about 5,000 yuan.

Corpse theft is not something new in China, it has been ongoing for years, often seasonal depending on the demand.

Xinhua reported the thieves have created anxiety in nearby villages. In Shengou village families have started to shift the tomb of their dead relatives closer to their homes from the distant mountain sites.

Some even have hired people to watch over their family tombs, reinforced the tombs with steel and installed cameras over the graves.

Ghost marriages have inspired novels and movies   

This uncanny custom of the Chinese has spinned of several works of fiction, including Yangsze Choo’s novel, The Ghost Bride, set in 19th century colonial Malaya.

The story revolves around a young woman who receives a proposal from a wealthy Chinese family in Malacca to marry their dead son.

Another work inspired by ghost marriages is the animation Corpse Bride, a story where a young man accidentally marries a corpse when things go wrong during the wedding rehearsal. — Bernama

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