It’s being reported that the theft of women’s dead bodies is on the rise in China. This weekend it was revealed that grave robbers in rural China have plundered at least three dozen women’s burial places and stolen their bodies or skeletons. These remains will be used in a bizarre ceremony called a “‘ghost wedding”. In this ritual, the stolen bodies or skeletons, which have been reinforced with steel wires, are re-clothed and reburied as “brides” alongside dead bachelors. Though this practice was outlawed by the People’s Republic of China almost 70 years ago, many old-school, rural, superstitious residents still believe that failure to find a burial partner for an unmarried male relative is bad luck.
The 3,000-year-old tradition can be pricey, with a freshly buried corpse costing about $15,300. Some families head straight to the hospital to claim one that hasn’t even been interred. One that is just a shell, or even a skeleton buried for decades, can be sold for more than $750. Though the tradition is outlawed, it is still openly practiced; there are even matchmaking agents to pair dead bachelors with the corpses of women. In 2013, four Chinese men were found guilty of grave robbing; new sentences have lawbreakers facing up to three years behind bars. The 2013 case held that the guilty grave robbers earned almost $40,000 for the disinterred remains.
Wealthy residents who can afford it have reportedly hired hired people to watch their family tombs or reinforced these tombs with steel. They have also installed cameras over graves. Other less wealthy residents have covered the tombs with concrete. The ‘ghost wedding’ tradition is upheld by many traditional Chinese in other, less bizarre ways, such as using women’s pictures, statues or dummies made of paper or dough. Ancestor worship is a deeply held tradition in China. Every August they hold the Ghost Festival, or Hungry Ghost Festival. In this traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival, ceremonies are held to avoid the wrath of wandering ‘hungry ghosts’, including leaving a place at the dinner table open for a lost ancestor, or buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water. The boats and lanterns are released to give directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of their ancestors. It is unknown at this time if locals expect an uptick in grave robbing as the Ghost Festival approaches.