In some societies, a person can be married after they die. This practice is most studied in China and some recent news stories have aroused interest in the subject. In China, if a young man dies without having wed, then his family may find or buy the corpse of a deceased young woman and have the two married. If the family is too poor to afford buying a real body, a fake made of straw may be buried with the young man. “As a Taoist, I don’t think that it’s anything strange but I know that most Westerners would never understand,” says one blogger.
Recently, a family that had purchased the body of a recently deceased young woman to marry to their dead son discovered that the body had been stolen from its new resting place and sold again to be married to someone else. So, a ghost bigamy situation.
But a worse problem is that some women have been abducted and murdered so that their corpse could be wed. In one case, a man who had bought a wife found that his new bride was “mentally handicapped and could not look after herself”. He had paid 12000 yuan for the woman. He killed her and sold her body for 8000. He planned to do one or two more to fully recoup his losses. Good thing we caught him, say the police.
Ghost marriages are mostly found in isolated rural areas. The Communist Party has tried to end the practice but has had only limited success. Still, there are examples of urban celebrities having ghost marriages:
And the combination of this ancient notion with the modern concept of marriage and romantic love has led to a strange situation whereby a young woman who lost her lover in the 2008 earthquake solicited Chongquing passers-by in 2010 trying to raise money for a marriage to his ghost, since it is assumed he died:
Anthropologists say that ghost marriage has something to do with the mix of Taoist spirit belief and the Confucian ideal of family completeness — a man or woman is incomplete until married. A living woman may be brought into a ghost marriage, then the family adopts a child that she raises, thus completing the dead man, herself, the child, and the family that contains them.
(via Beachcombing’s Bizarre History which also looks at other kinds of post-death religious activity.)