Till Death Join Us Together

By Christine Cupaiuolo — October 5, 2006

In some rural parts of China, local custom puts a high premium on marriage — even in death. “To ensure a son’s contentment in the afterlife, some grieving parents will search for a dead woman to be his bride and, once a corpse is obtained, bury the pair together as a married couple,” writes Jim Yardley in The New York Times.

The family of the deceased will go to great lengths to find a female corpse, even paying the equivalent of $1,200, though the average farmer makes only about $300 per year. “Families of the bride regard the money as the dowry they would have received had death not intervened,” notes Yardley.

A woman’s family may also see it as a favor to their daughter:

Guo Yuhua, a sociology professor at Qinghua University in Beijing, an expert on folk traditions and burial customs in the Loess Plateau, said the minghun custom stemmed from both dread and sympathy for the dead. She said parents with dead daughters, like those with dead sons, were also carrying out an obligation to their child. They will sell their bodies as a way of finding them a place in a Chinese society where tradition dictates that a daughter has no place on her father’s family tree.

“China is a paternal clan culture,” said Professor Guo, who did postdoctoral work in anthropology at Harvard. “A woman does not belong to her parents. She must marry and have children of her own before she has a place among her husband’s lineage. A woman who dies unmarried has no place in this world.”

And no say about the afterlife, either.

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