Search for love in China fuels ‘ghost marriages’; grave robbing
BEIJING – Wei Guohua finally found his Mrs. Right – almost 10 years after he died.
Led by a rooster, Wei Guohua’s children brought the remains of his bride and buried them inside his tomb in Yulin, a town in Shannxi province, on Nov. 14, 2012.
A well-known local feng shui master hosted a ceremony to pronounce them husband and wife. (The rooster was there because people believe the birds can guide the dead to a new home.)
The marriage of two dead people in China is a centuries-old custom called “minghun,” or “ghost marriage.”
According to folklore, if people are alone when they die, they will be alone in the afterlife, too. Worse yet, lonely ghosts might come back and try to take family members back to their world to keep them company. So it becomes a family responsibility to make sure deceased relatives are happily married.
Carrying out a ghost wedding in modern China isn’t easy. For one thing, it’s not legal. The practice was officially banned after the Communist Party came to power in 1949, but it can still be found in remote regions of the country.
Also, ghost weddings can cost big bucks. They are performed much like regular weddings, except they usually involve a burial ceremony. Relatives and friends of the deceased eat and drink. Sometimes entertainment is provided. After the wedding, the two families typically socialize together, especially on major holidays. Some believe their bond can be closer than that of in-laws of living couples.
… Demand for female bodies is particularly high. Professor Chen Huawen, an expert in Chinese burial customs, says the reason is that many young bachelors work as coal miners in provinces where ghost marriages persist. Coal mining is dangerous work that often leads to death. According to Chen, miners’ families often receive a lump sum of around $50,000 as compensation when a miner dies in an accident, and they are often willing to spend some of that money to find a wife for their dead relative.
As a result, the fresh corpse of a young woman can fetch as much as $30,000 on the black market. That kind of demand has led to the grim crime of grave robbing.
…”Ghost marriage between two dead people is stable and lasts forever,” said Zhao Ming, one of Wei Guohua’s grandsons. “There is no such thing as divorce.”