The Bizarre Tradition Of Chinese Ghost Marriages

“A bad marriage is like an electrical thrilling machine: it makes you dance, but you can’t let go.” —Ambrose Bierce, A Cynic Looks at Life

In A Nutshell

For thousands of years, it’s been believed in China that if a man dies unmarried he will haunt his living relatives. To quiet him, his survivors would participate in a tradition called a “ghost marriage,” where a bride would be found and wed to him post-mortem. Now outlawed, there’s a booming trade of female corpses on the black market.

The Whole Bushel

No one wants to die alone. But the sad fact is, many people do all over the world. In China, though, it’s not just considered sad but also unlucky. For centuries, it’s been believed that a man who dies a bachelor will be unsatisfied and will haunt his living relatives by raising havoc and causing mischief. To remedy this, a bride was found for the dead bachelor so he would have company in the afterlife in a tradition called “ghost marriage.” But not just any bride—it needed to be a dead bride.

Traditionally, ghost wedding ceremonies were similar to those of living couples. There was eating, drinking, and socializing. Often, the groom’s family would give gifts of cash to the relatives of the bride. But then things took a very creepy turn. The bride would then be exhumed from her grave and reburied next to her new ghost husband, a man she never knew in life.

In an effort to distance China from some of its old and more unproductive traditions, ghost marriages were made illegal in 1949. However, the superstition and stigma of a man dying without a wife persisted. Most Chinese citizens abide by the law and as an alternative to a ghost bride have a “flour bride” made for the recently departed bachelor. Wheat flour is made into a paste and molded into the shape of a woman. Traditional wedding makeup is usually applied.

Article Continued Below

Not everyone plays by the rules, though. Rather than completely disappearing, the strange custom has moved to the black market. With China’s economy picking up, many who couldn’t before are now able to afford ghost marriages. But now, instead of the two families meeting and arranging the union together, grave robbers are digging up female corpses and selling them for up to $7,000 each. Earlier this year, four Chinese men faced up to two years in prison for the theft and sale of 10 bodies that had fetched them up to $40,000.

Ghost matchmakers have also gone into business, offering to orchestrate the best match possible. Sometimes they go to hospitals where they negotiate deals with the grieving families of girls who are dying and in 2006, six women were murdered to be sold as ghost brides.

It looks like this tradition isn’t going away anytime soon. So much for “til death do us part.”

Show Me The Proof

TIME: Chinese Grave Robbers Jailed for Selling Ghost Brides
MSN: ‘Ghost marriages’ unite lonely deceased in rural China (video)
Huffington Post: Ghost Marriages: Corpses ‘Married’ In Centuries-Old Chinese Tradition

Looking for our newsletter? Subscribe here!