Chinese Ghost Brides


Tim Burton's Take on Chinese Minghun

Tim Burton's Take on Chinese Minghun

A couple of weeks ago I was in London to film a brief interview with a production company making a documentary for Channel Four about a man who exhumes bodies for a living. It was a really awkward interview as the first question posed to me was, “So why is the body important?” As I stumbled through the questions I realized that there are all manner of beliefs about the corpse that vary from culture to culture. I mentioned the Zoroastrian tradition of leaving the corpse on the mountain side to be consumed by the elements. The Mexican “El Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) where they celebrate the deceased and even some cultures where the corpse is exhumed for a day of celebration. I even got a mention of the funereal cannibalism that was practiced by the South American Wari tribe up until the 1950’s where deceased relatives were cooked and eaten. In short there is no end to the weird beliefs concerning how we treat the dead but in each instance very few cultures simply treat the body as flesh and bone.

We learn this week that a grieving father in China paid graver-robbers to dig up the body of a teenage girl who recently committed suicide for failing to pass her university entrance exams. He had just lost his son and he wanted a “ghost bride” for him in the afterlife. This practice known as “minghun” reflects a widespread belief that an unmarried life is an incomplete one – even in death. A marriage ceremony is performed and the two corpses are buried together. In China, young girls are often sold for weddings and even death is no bar to selling one’s own daughter. Parents of a dead daughter often regard the money received in selling her for minghun as recompense for the dowry that they did not receive in her lifetime, while also posthumously elevating their child’s place. This practice reminds me of Jesse Bering’s work with pre-school children that I discuss in SuperSense where they reason that although a puppet mouse might be dead inside the belly of an alligator, it still has a mental life because the after-life is such a powerful assumption.

Although minghun has officially been banned it still goes on in rural communities leading to grave-robbing.  One problem is the lack of suitable ghost brides. Last year, a Chinese gang were arrested for murdering young women to supply the need for minghun. Once again, we are reminded that not all beliefs are benign.

“The Exhumer” will be broadcast on Channel Four in July.


Filed under In the News, supernatural, Weird Story of the Week

11 responses to “Chinese Ghost Brides

  1. Remy

    Bruce, This is very interesting. It shows your depth of knowledge on well-versed cross culture beyond what you penned in supersense. Is there any way to have the program recorded and watch later on Youtube or Vimeo without copyright infringement?

  2. brucehood

    That is very kind of you Remy but I only got a few minutes and frankly I don’t think I answered the questions well.

  3. You know, sometimes I get really tired of just how many different ways young girls get taken advantage of and here they are getting murdered so they can be sold into arranged marriages after their death.

    I just am too damn tired these days to rail against the inherent unfairness of the inequity between the sexes.

    I am impressed you had the knowledge to bring these things up when posed the question, and I am sure your answers were quite good Bruce.

    Anybody wanna distract me with a strong drink and a dumb movie where some equally unintelligent actor shows his gluteus maximus off?

  4. I use to live in India and this reminds me of Sati — Hindu practice (no illegal, but still happens) where widow jumps on cremation fire of husband. Or of Pharaoh having servants buried with him. The dualism illusion in humans is hypnotically dangerous — I consider this the curse of consciousness. (kind of like eating the forbidden fruit – smile)

  5. Bruce,

    I, too, have heard about minghun and how it is still practiced in China.

    Aside from the abhorrent practice of killing young girls so that there can be a bride, I find the whole idea that you must be married in order to enter the after-life truly bizarre.

    Imagine trying to sell that idea to westerners whose divorce rate is something like 3 out of 4 marriages.

    I do have to say that idea of cooking and eating my deceased relatives as the Wari did does not sound at all appealing. Imagine the dinner conversation: “Is this mum or dad?”
    “Don’t know, but whoever it is, they are very fatty.”

    Sorry, did I cross the line there?

  6. brucehood

    Oh you are way too sharp Duncan… 😉 I should have thought of that !

  7. Bad form. Bad form. I can just see you pointing your finger and saying. No. No. No. Bad form. To which the Wari would respond by placing you in a large kettle . . .

    And why shouldn’t the relatives be able to eat their own? Most of our relatives spend a great deal of time eating away at our time and sanity; it’s only fair that what goes around comes back around the campfire.

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