“Ghost brides” of China

“A woman in China was sold twice into marriage within days, despite both she and the grooms being dead.” – The Telegraph UK News, 3/7/2012  

If the saying is true, “Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes,” then for some women in China, you can remove one of those from Benjamin Franklin’s list. Due to superstition and greed, resting in peace after death is by no means a certain thing, not when there is a need for “ghost brides.” 

A bachelor right up until the end

Helena Bonham Carter was featured in the 2005 movie Corpse Bride

For some Chinese citizens, when a bachelor in the family passes away, the next of kin often feels a sense of duty to provide comfort in the afterlife for their dearly departed loved one. But what can a family do to make sure their favorite single man is prepared for all of eternity? Of course, the answer is simple. Find a deceased bachelorette to be his companion, called a “ghost bride.”

The concept of marrying off a dead bride is not that unusual. In 2005, the animated movie “Corpse Bride,” by celebrated director, producer and writer Tim Burton along with collaborator Mike Johnson, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Perhaps the recent trend of Chinese “ghost brides” is merely an example of life imitating Tim Burton’s art? Not so fast. There is an ulterior motive at work here.

“Ghost marriages”

On Wednesday, March 7, 2012, The Telegraph published a staff item, “Chinese ‘ghost bride’ sold twice into marriage,” which describes an awfully gruesome practice, carried out by a grisly bunch of relatives and a handful of dreadful fiends:

“The woman, from China’s Hebei Province, near Beijing, died over the Lunar Year holiday, according to the Global Times. But her family decided to sell her for a ‘ghost marriage’, a superstition that sees dead bachelors married off so they can wander the afterlife together.”

If that’s not bad enough, they weren’t done with the deceased woman quite yet. According to the same Telegraph article:

“Grave robbers however dug up the bride’s body, and were caught by police marrying her off to a dead bachelor in another town for 30,000 yuan, it was claimed.”

Traditional Chinese wedding dresses are often worn by ghost brides

It’s not a new tradition

Besides the money-driven greed, there is something else at work behind so-called “spirit weddings” involving “ghost brides.” It’s the age-old force of superstition. Even the heavy handed Communist leader, Mao Zedong, tried to put an end to the “ghost bride” ritual. Mao is gone but the macabre tradition lives on.

Some believe in bad luck and “mojo” while others are moved by the curse of the “evil eye.” Maybe reciting “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” or avoiding black cats strikes your superstitious fancy. How many people throw salt over one shoulder for good luck? Before letting the freak flags fly, its best to realize there is hardly anyone who is not affected by superstition, in one way or another.

With that said, regarding recently passed bachelors in China, it’s possible to understand how a family would want to ensure eternal happiness for their loved one, like with the famous mummies of ancient Egypt. However, what does the “ghost bride” practice say about that society’s views of women?

There haven’t been any reports of dead bachelors being dug up or sold lately, yet The Telegraph easily located the story about the deceased woman who was sold twice. She’s not the only one.

In June 2009, another Telegraph news service article reported, “Five people have been arrested in China for digging up the corpse of a young woman to be a ‘ghost bride’ for a man killed in a car crash.”

Within various regions of contemporary China, not even in death are some women safe. Apparently, old traditions are the hardest to eradicate.


As a dedicated writer, storyteller, journalist, interviewer and biographer, Paul Wolfle, B.A. ARM, contributes original material to a number of social media sites, online magazines and a popular digital news reporting services. Paul is also the author of eBooks and frequently offers commentary about contemporary music topics.
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