Chinese families are increasingly performing "ghost marriages," where they seek out eternal companions for their deceased relatives.
Is love eternal?
While that can be a difficult question to answer, ABC News reports that a growing number of families in rural China are hoping to make it as everlasting as possible by reviving "ghost marriages," the ancient Chinese tradition of marrying two corpses and placing them to live with each other underground.
Traditionalist Chinese families can be reluctant to leave their dead, unmarried relatives without a spouse. According to ancient folklore, lonely corpses might rise from the dead and try to take the living back to their world to keep them company.
While the custom fizzled in the past century after Mao Zedong and the Communist Party tried to eliminate it in 1949, it has experienced a resurgence in rural Chinese coal communities where money is becoming more abundant and where young men frequently die in coal mining accidents.
When mining accidents turn tragic, victims' families typically receive financial compensation. According to China Daily, the families of 23 miners killed in a 2011 coal-gas burst at Xiangshui CoalMine in Guizhou each received almost $164,000 from the company that controlled the mine, the GuizhouPanjiangGroup.
With the restitution money and other mining-related proceeds in hand, many rural superstitious Chinese have become able to not only afford expensive dowries and elaborate ceremonies, but also the most desirable corpses.
A recently deceased young, attractive woman can fetch $30,000 on the black market, NBC reported.
Unfortunately, the surge of new money and demand for brides has created a brimming grave-robbing industry in rural China as well. Earlier this month, according to The Guardian, a Chinese court sentenced four men to prison for stealing 10 female corpses, falsifying their medical records and selling them for roughly $38,000. To increase a cadaver's asking price, criminals have even resorted to performing plastic surgery on the deceased, NBC reported.
Along with grave diggers, "ghost matchmakers" have also sprung up near the coal communities. The intermediaries assist in the selection of the corpses and broker their acquisition between two families. The matchmakers have been known to travel to extreme lengths to procure the best cadavers. According to the Global Times, they sometimes lurk in Chinese hospitals where they cut deals with grieving families. Worse, according to ABC, a Chinese man murdered six women in 2006 so he could sell them for ghost marriages.
When the deceased are more ethically and lawfully obtained, their unions can be similar to those of the living: expensive and festive. A brother and sister profiled by NBC News spent $2,500 on betrothal gifts to the family of their father's new 21-year-old bride, who died in 1989. Their father was divorced when he died at the age of 48 in 1968.
Entertainment is sometimes present at "ghost marriages" and guests commonly eat and drink. After the ceremony, the deceased newlyweds' families typically remain close. According to NBC, some Chinese think the bond between the families of the deceased is closer than the one shared by in-laws of the living.