A county court in central China has sentenced four men to prison for digging up and selling corpses on the black market to enable “ghost marriages”, a millennia-old custom of burying deceased bachelors alongside newly deceased wives so that they will not grow lonely in the afterlife.
On Saturday, the Xi’an Evening News reported that the Yanchuan county court in Yan’an City, Shanxi province, sentenced each of the men to more than two years in prison for stealing 10 female corpses, cleaning them up and counterfeiting their medical records to boost their prices, and selling them on the black market for a total of £25,000.
Ritual ghost marriages, which may date back to the 17th century BC, are increasingly rare in contemporary China – Mao Zedong tried to eliminate them when he assumed power in 1949 – but they are still practised in rural parts of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei and Guangdong provinces. Families often employ a matchmaker to help find a suitable spouse for their deceased loved ones.
The four men, with surnames Pang, Bai, He and Zhang, exhumed the corpses in the winter of 2011 from a smattering of arid, coal-rich counties in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces.
The state-run Global Times newspaper reported in 2011 that an influx of coal money to parts of northern Shaanxi province bolstered the area’s underground corpse trade, with a newly wealthy but…