It sounds like the plot to a horror movie, but it isn’t.
Police in China have arrested 11 people for their purported roles in the act of digging up the corpses of women and then selling them to others for ritual ghost marriages. The offense of unearthing a body is punishable up to three years in China.
The suspects dug up the body of a woman from a village in Shandong province last March and then sold it to a middleman for around 18,000 yuan. The ringleader of the group, identified only by the name Wang, boldly admitted that fresher bodies are worth more money.
“Years-old carcasses are not worth a damn, while the ones that have just died, like this one, are valuable,” Wang said, referring to the body of a woman he and his criminal associates dug up three months after she was buried.
“They could be sold for somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 yuan,” Wang ghoulishly added.
The woman’s corpse was circulated through the black market in China before finally being bought by the family of a recently deceased bachelor in the Hebei province for 38,000 yuan – about $6,000 U.S.
Beicheng police officer Zhang Linhai, who is in charge of the case, was unable to provide more details, saying that the investigation was still ongoing.
A ghost marriage the practice of marrying two corpses so that neither will be lonely in the afterlife. The practice is also bolstered by the idea that if a spirit is lonely in the afterlife, he or she will haunt their living relatives.
The traditions of ghost marriages and corpse brides were outlawed in 1949, and, in most areas of China, is seen as a primitive, outdated superstition. But a smattering of unearthed graves as people look for ghost brides to sell on the black market shows that the practice of ghost marriage still holds roots in more rural areas of China. Many believe the improved economy of China allows those who could not previously afford to purchase a ghost bride for their deceased male relatives to now do so.
In the more traditional form of a ghost wedding, where the family of the corpse bride is a willing participant, rather than a body being dug up and sold, the ceremony looks much like a traditional Chinese wedding. Families even sometimes hire a matchmaker, and relatives from both sides feast, drink, and socialize. The groom’s family often presents the family of the ghost bride with a gift, usually cash. After the ceremony, the bride’s family exhumes her body in order to enter it next to that of the deceased husband.
Families with lesser financial means who still desire a ghost marriage sometimes use a proxy for the corpse bride, such as a statuette or a human-shaped, doughy biscuit with eyes made of black beans. Others sometimes purchase an old, rotting corpse, reinforce the skeleton with steel wire, and dress it in new clothing.
The practice of buying bodies for ghost marriages on the black market has had some tragic consequences. As Wang said, “fresh” corpses fetch much higher prices. One man was arrested for killing at least six women in order to sell their bodies. And in 2011, a pregnant woman was murdered in order to sell her body to a family for a ghost marriage.
Although those who purchase the bodies are doing so for traditional reasons, there are always those who have more twisted ideas. For more, read about the Russian man who was found with 29 corpses of little girls in his apartment.
[Image via TIME]