Chinese Grave Robbers Jailed for Selling Ghost Brides

Four Chinese men were imprisoned for digging up female bodies and selling them to the families of deceased bachelors.

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Bobby Yip / REUTERS

Artists dressed as Chinese ghost bride and bridegroom in Hong Kong in 2003

Four Chinese men are facing more than 2 years in prison for digging up female corpses and selling them for ghost marriages, an ancient ritual of burying newly deceased women alongside dead bachelors so that they can accompany each other in their afterlives, according to the state-run newspaper China Daily.

According to the report, the men have been digging up graves in coal-rich Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces since 2011. They reportedly washed the corpses and fabricated hospital documents to push up the prices. The thieves allegedly made almost $40,000 off the 10 stolen corpses before being caught.

(More: How the World’s Biggest Mall Became a Chinese ‘Ghost Town’)

The practice of ghost marriage, which may date as far back as 17th century B.C., is rare in modern China. According to the Telegraph, Mao Zedong tried to eliminate the custom after he assumed power in 1949. But some rural families in northern China still try to find spouses for their deceased children out of fear that the ghosts will otherwise come back to haunt them.

According to the state-run Global Times, a female corpse may fetch as much as $21,000 on the black market. Sometimes families head straight to the hospital and seal the deal for a female body themselves. They then find a matchmaker who would choose an auspicious day for the marriage, which involves giving paper dowries that are later burned in front of the graves and holding sumptuous feasts.

This is not the first time authorities have punished the sale of ghost brides. In 2009, police arrested five men for exhuming the grave of a teenage girl who had committed suicide. A father who lost his son in a car crash agreed to pay more than $4,000 for the corpse bride. Two years earlier, a man was arrested for killing and selling six women, according to the Telegraph.

(More: Ordos, China: A Modern Ghost Town)