Return of the Chinese Body Snatchers!



Idries photoshoot 2


By: Dr. Idries J. Abdur-Rahman


The phenomenon of the Ghost wedding or Mínghūn (冥婚, which translates to “spirit marriage”) has been a tradition in China dating as far back as the 17th century BC. Many in China believe that the spirit of a person who dies before marriage will wander the afterlife lonely and aimless. As time passes, these    spirits will become restless and angry leading them to return to earth to haunt and curse their surviving family members. Preventing such an outcome is the primary reason for the Ghost Wedding. If a deceased person is united with another peron in marriage even after they have died, the two souls will spend eternity together and never return to earth. Even though Ghost Weddings were outlawed by the Chinese government in 1949, as China becomes more wealthy they seem to be making a comeback.


In traditional ghost weddings, the bereaved family employs the services of a spirit world matchmaker whose sole job is to find a suitable spirit spouse for their deceased loved one.  This involves getting to know the likes and dislikes of the dearly departed and finding another departed soul with whom they would likely be compatible. Once a suitable match is made, the families meet and if they agree on the suitability, they arrange the wedding ceremony. The ghost wedding ceremony is much like any other ceremony and it includes a dowry (usually money or jewelry), the exchanging of vows and a post-wedding celebratory feast.   The bride and groom are usually represented by dolls made of paper maché and bamboo dressed in full wedding regalia.  At the reception, the happy couple is surrounded by paper cut outs that represent things that the couple would use in their daily lives (furniture, money, etc.). Once the ceremony is complete, the actual corpses are exhumed from their original graves and reburied together in a single grave. The paper cut outs are burned so that the items will accompany the new couple to their home in the afterlife.


Ghost couple


Ghost couple


So, what’s the problem with the Ghost Wedding? If it brings the families involved a sense of peace to “marry” their deceased loved ones, what’s the harm?    Recently, there has been a spike in the number of grave body snatchings and it is believed that this is related to the spike in ghost weddings. Instead of employing the services of a spirit world matchmaker or taking the time to find a family with a deceased member of the opposite gender to marry their deceased loved one to, more and more people have been paying body snatchers to steal deceased companions (usually brides).  The services of these body snatchers are not cheap with reports of a single bodysnatching costing upwards of US$3000. The remains of recently deceased young brides command a particular premium though remains of brides well into their 80’s and 90’s have been stolen.  In 2013, police in China’s Shanxi province arrested a gang of body snatchers who reportedly made close to 300,000 Chinese Yuan (about $50,000 US) for stealing and selling 10 corpses. Understandably this phenomenon of bodysnatching has left many families devastated not only by the loss of their loved one’s remains but ironically also by the feeling that their deceased family members are now wondering the afterlife aimlessly.

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