Ghost Marriage: Commodification of Chinese Folklore and Organised Crime

Project: Research

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In China, the study of organized crime has been underdeveloped. According to recent media reports, it seems that organised crime associated with posthumous marriage in China is on the rise. The custom of the posthumous marriage has been passed down from ancient times in China. This tradition of marriage for the deceased belongs to rural Chinese society. According to folklore, males or females who reached adult age and died before marriage could not be buried with their ancestors. Families did not want to leave bodies outside, as they believed that the spirits would become lonely. Instead, they wished to find husbands/wives for their dead relatives to continue the family tree. After marriage, the deceased could be buried with their ancestors instead of being buried in the woods and becoming wandering ghosts. After burial with their ancestors, the spirits could accept the offerings and worships of their offspring. This folkloric practice became deeply rooted in the consciousness of China’s indigenous rural people, and was not easily erased, even after China became a communist country. Posthumous marriage continues today in rural areas, but only corpses are used, with no living partners.The custom has spawned a large posthumous marriage market, resulting in the trading of corpses. This industry and its profits have driven criminals to murder, raid tombs and morgues and traffic and trade corpses. In China, the eighth and ninth articles of a regulation on the transportation and disposal of dead bodies state that the buying and selling of corpses are prohibited. Dead bodies can only be used for medical research, not for commercial activities. No units or individuals can receive donations for corpses. The prohibition on trading corpses is intended to prevent murder, the theft of corpses and other criminal activities. The changing economic environment and affluence in rural areas has reshaped criminal activities. However, no academic criminological research has been conducted on this specific topic. To fill this research gap, the proposed study will go beyond folklore to investigate the operation of organised crime linked with posthumous marriage. The study will test whether the ‘social network’ and ‘entrepreneurial’ perspectives can be integrated to obtain a more complete picture of organized crime in rural China. The findings will contribute to the literature and strengthen theoretical understanding of how organised crime has developed and continues to operate in the emerging rural market economy. 


Project number9042918
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/207/12/22