Four people have been jailed in China for digging up corpses to sell as brides for traditional “ghost marriages” — where dead single men are buried with a wife for the afterlife — local reports said.
Normally it is agreed between the families of the dead, but the Xian Evening News said the group “stole female corpses and after cleaning them, fabricated medical files for the deceased and sold them for a high price”.
A court in the northern province of Shaanxi sentenced the four to terms between 28 and 32 months, it said, adding they “took advantage” of the “bad tradition” of ghost marriages in parts of Shaanxi and neighbouring Shanxi province.
OK, that’s weird. So let’s take a quick look at these ghost marriages. One or both parties are deceased and this seems to happen around the world, not just China. There are several reasons why they occur having to do with tradition and family lineages. The couple was engaged to be married, an unmarried daughter can join a prestigious family, to mitigate the marriage of an older brother before the younger, or a family line can be continued. It hardly makes sense today but, traditions die hard.
According to this site:
A long standing tradition in Chinese culture for as far back as anyone can remember. Honestly, history cannot pinpoint the exact time that this odd type of marriage popped up. In 1949, Mao Tse Tung attempted to stamp out ghost marriages when he brought communism to China. However, the oddly regarded sale of corpse brides still occurs today in full force on the black market.
And that is evident in the news story.
There is an entire chapter about the superstitious topic here [PDF]. It notes that at one time the practice got so bad with corpses regularly stolen, that legislation had to be passed. It’s against the law and not so prevalent now but it’s not all gone. Also interesting in this piece are stories about dead children having arranged marriages and the various situations where ghost marriages were assumed to be the prudent thing to do. The Chinese believed that ghosts were up to no good so to marry them off took care of that problem.