Police in eastern China have arrested 11 people for their alleged roles in digging up dead women’s bodies which were then sold into ritual “ghost marriages”.
The suspects exhumed a woman’s body from a village grave in Shandong province in March and sold it to a middleman for 18,000 yuan (HK$22,760), Shandong Radio and Television reported.
The custom of ghost marriages requires a woman’s body be buried alongside a newly deceased bachelor so that he won’t be alone in the afterlife. It may date back to the 17th century BC and is mostly practised today in rural areas of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei and Guangdong provinces.
The lead suspect, identified by the surname Wang, said the fresher the bodies, the more they were worth.
“Years-old carcasses are not worth a damn, while the ones that have just died, like this one, are valuable,” Wang said in a clip aired in the news broadcast, referring to the body of a woman unearthed three months after she was buried.
“They could be sold for somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 yuan,” Wang said.
The woman’s body was then circulated on the black market, moving across several cities, before it was eventually sold to the family of a dead bachelor in neighbouring Hebei province for 38,000 yuan, the report said.
The suspects were accused of stealing corpses, a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.
Beicheng police officer Zhang Linhai, who is in charge of case, declined to provide more details when reached for comment on Thursday, saying that the investigation was still ongoing.
The tradition of ghost marriages is becoming rarer in contemporary China as authorities had for years labelled it an outdated superstition. But a number of cases have been reported in different parts of the country in recent years, showing that the practice still has deep roots in some rural areas.
In 2009, a grieving father from Shaanxi paid a team of grave robbers 33,000 yuan to find a suitable bride for his son, who had recently died in a car crash. They were later arrested for exhuming the remains of a teenage girl who had killed herself not long after failing her college entrance exam. South China Morning Post
And in 2011, a Shaanxi man murdered a pregnant woman in order to sell her body to a family pursuing a ritual ghost marriage for 22,000 yuan. He was later sentenced to death.