The 13th Floor

People Are Robbing Graves in China in Search of “Corpse Brides”

As bizarre as it sounds, a recent spike in police reports of grave-robbing in the southern region of China’s Shanxi Province is not a new phenomenon… and the motivation behind the crimes is even creepier.

According to police reports, dozens of female bodies have been stolen from their graves in the Shanxi county of Hongtong, and are being sold to families as “corpse brides.” While that term might call to mind Tim Burton’s whimsical animated film, the reality of corpse brides is not so romantic.

Image Credit: Warner Brothers
Image Credit: Warner Brothers

It seems there’s a centuries-old superstition in some regions of China which says that bad luck is visited upon the relatives of any man who dies before he can find a wife. Those who still cling to that belief are arranging “ghost marriages” for these deceased bachelors, in which a dead woman’s remains — any dead woman will do, apparently — are dressed in formal clothing and buried alongside the dead man after a symbolic marriage ceremony.

While the practice of ghost marriages has been banned for decades, that hasn’t stopped some families from paying grave-robbers large sums of money to keep the tradition alive (pardon the pun).

Xinhua News Agency cites Chang Sixin, deputy director of the China Folk Literature and Art Association, who says the practice is so common that there is an entire network of matchmakers and agencies designed to pair up dead single men with post-mortem spouses… and the demand is reportedly increasing: procuring a “fresh” bride can cost families up to $15,000, but those on tighter budgets have been known to purchase extremely decomposed remains.

In the article, Quting village resident Jing Gouzi says that he had previously thought of making an effigy bride out of dough for his deceased brother (a common practice that began when the corpse bride tradition was banned), but was convinced by the elders in his village that only a genuine corpse would prevent bad luck.

Grave-robbing has become such a problem lately that wealthier Chinese families have built special steel tombs and hired guards to watch over them.