The practice of Mínghūn (冥婚, “Spirit Marriage”) dates back to the 17th century B.C. in China. Also known as a Ghost Wedding, these ceremonies are carried out because many in China believe that the spirit of a person who dies before marriage will wander in the afterlife lonely and aimless.
As time passes, the Chinese believe that this lonely spirit will become restless and angry, leading it to return to earth to haunt and curse its surviving family members. A desire to this haunting is what ultimately led to the Ghost Wedding. Simply put, the thought behind the Ghost Wedding is that, if a deceased person is united with another deceased person in marriage, even if this marriage is performed after both of the deceased have died, the two souls will spend eternity together. Happy and at peace, the deceased will never return to earth and will leave their living loved ones in peace. Even though the practice of the Ghost Wedding was outlawed by the Chinese government in 1949, as China has become more wealthy and more free, the Ghost Wedding has been making a comeback of sorts.
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.
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, China has seen a spike in the number of body snatchings; and it is believed that this is related to the parallel spike seen in the number of 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.