Chinese Ghost Marriage Abstract

Maria Crawford

COR-330-08: Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors


Final Project: Abstract


My project is on Chinese ghost marriages. I loosely used the format of a National Geographic article, particularly the ones on their website. I’ve looked at several different articles on the National Geographic website to try to figure out what sort of format and style they use, and I formatted my paper accordingly. I’ve used quotes, pictures, and research to fill out my paper.

An old Chinese belief that a man who dies as a bachelor will become a restless and mischievous ghost and will haunt living relatives gave way to the practice of ghost marriages. Where (usually) a single dead son would be married to a dead female so he’s not lonely in the afterlife.

The origin of the practice in China is unknown, however it is not exclusive to Chinese tradition. It has shown up in many other countries including Sudan, India, to France. Usually these ceremonies are public, and take place between two deceased people.

These ceremonies can take place for multiple reasons. However it usually comes down to the family wanting a grandson after the death of the family son, for a living daughter-in-law to marry a dead son, or for an older dead son to marry before the younger living son does. These ceremonies are deeply rooted in the social and political patriarchy that takes place in China, and most of Asia.

The practice has been outlawed since 1949, but traditionally ghost marriages were performed much like real marriages, with effigys representing the deceased.

One of the main reasons this practice was illegalized was because some wealthier families prefer real bodies to effigys, and will pay for bodies of young females were dug up and stolen by grave robbers. The practice was also seen as unproductive and backwards, though in some parts of the country the practice just went underground, and was performed at night.

In most of China it is seen as an outdated and primitive practice, but where it is still performed is relevant. It is rural areas who have a stronger need for the tradition, and are less in touch with the rest of the countries ideology.

The illegalized practice is kept alive due to the ideologies of groups of people in certain areas of the country. The practice itself stemmed from the patriarchal country, who still usually believe that only men can further the family line, and female children are largely a nuisance. If the male heir of the family dies, the family will marry the son posthumously just to keep the family line in his name. Ghost marriages were banned in 1949 for a reason, they were seen as backwater, and unproductive. If Chinese ways of perceiving gender roles could change for the better, to change so that men and women are on an equal status, perhaps these usually ghoulish ceremonies could be put to rest, and the deceased could continue to rest in peace.

Ghost marriages stem from Chinese religion, mythology, and its views on the genders. Religion and mythology factor into the views on the afterlife, and how unmarried men can turn into ghosts who haunt the family and cause mischief. The countries views on gender, and how women cannot run a family line also factor into the practice. It is a mix of all these factors that make up the practice, and like many other Chinese traditions, it has fallen out of use, partly because it was illegalized in the early 50’s (like many other practices), and partly because it was a ghoulish practice to begin with, buying and selling dead relatives to strangers.

It’s all these factors which allow ghost marriage to be relatable to many other parts of Chinese culture.

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