Corpse theft for 'ghost marriages' on the rise in rural Chinese province

TAIYUAN • Corpse theft is on the rise in rural Shanxi as the old custom of "ghost marriage" has resurfaced in the northern Chinese province.

Southern Shanxi's Hongtong county has reported at least three dozen thefts of female corpses in the past three years, said county police department deputy director Lin Xu, who added that several thefts were reported last February and March.

In ghost marriage rituals, female skeletons are reinforced with steel wires and clothed before they are buried alongside dead bachelors as "ghost brides".

Failure to find a burial partner for unmarried male relatives is thought to bring bad luck, according to rural folk belief.

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

The government ordered people to cease the practice after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

China Folk Literature and Art Association deputy director Chang Sixin said there are now even matchmaking agents and companies to pair dead bachelors with the corpses of women.

Penalties exist for those who steal or defile a corpse. They can be imprisoned for up to to three years. The light punishment has, how- ever, failed to deter corpse traffickers seeking profit, Mr Lin said.

A fresh female corpse can fetch up to 100,000 yuan (S$21,540), and even a body that has been buried for decades can be sold for around 5,000 yuan.

Mr Guo Qiwen is looking for his mother's body, which was stolen last March.

"I have spent more than 50,000 yuan looking for her remains. It kills my heart not having her back," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Corpse theft for 'ghost marriages' on the rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe