For my final project, I chose to create a short story centered on the theme of Chinese ghost marriage in the style of a dating sim. I wanted to utilize my acquired knowledge of ghost marriage traditions to craft a quirky romantic comedy that juxtaposes an ancient tradition against modern Chinese life.
The story is set in Singapore and follows the life of Yi Ling Tan, a thirty-something trying to make it on her own in the city. Yi Ling is determined to prove her worth through hard work and entrepreneurial drive, and is successful enough. However, her traditional family has other ideas about her future. The story begins in earnest when Yi Ling returns to her childhood home for the Qingming festival. Her father reveals to her that he and her mother have arranged for her to marry the deceased son of a family friend who has come to visit. Confused and outraged, Yi Ling rejects this proposal, deeming it archaic and ridiculous.
Later that night she is visited by the ghost of her would-be groom, Xian Wei. He tries to convince her to give him a chance, and over the course of a few days they get to know each other. Yi Ling is skeptical at first, but as she and Xian Wei become better acquainted, she starts to realize that he really is a genuinely nice guy, if not a little strange. After some time, she begins to change her mind and open her heart.
Things are complicated by the appearance of Yi Ling’s childhood friend, Lee. It is revealed that Lee died in a car crash several years ago, and has been haunting the residents of her hometown. Despite his prickly disposition, Lee has a heart of gold and a soft spot for Yi Ling. The two soon recognize a mutual attraction, but are afraid to act on their feelings given the unique circumstances.
The story comes to a head when the two ghost suitors meet and compete for Yi Ling’s affection. I won’t spoil her choice, but it results in a small but meaningful wedding ceremony conducted according to traditional ghost marriage rituals. The story ends with Yi Ling returning to the city to pursue her personal ambitions, accompanied by her husband.
The idea for this story came from my rudimentary understanding of ghost marriage, and my goal in writing it was to motivate myself to research such an intriguing practice. I was not disappointed. I sifted through several dense academic papers and book chapters, eventually coming away with enough information to feel comfortable crafting a narrative on the subject. My strategy was to find where my sources intersected most often, and use those points of intersection as a solid foundation for my work.
In my research, I found that ghost marriage was often conducted as a way to continue family lines, marry off an unmarried woman, or satisfy a would-be hungry ghost. Since the dated notion of a family line requiring a male heir is prevalent in China, families would consider marrying a deceased heir off in order to continue his lineage. Similarly, unmarried women who were considered an embarrassment or concern could marry into a respected household via becoming betrothed to a deceased heir. This was also a common practice among women who wanted to remain unmarried without the scorn associated with such an act. As such, a living woman marrying a dead man is still treated with disdain. Go figure.
Ghost marriage can also be used to ward off angry spirits who have no ancestors to receive offerings from. Because women who die unmarried and at an eligible age cannot be respected by their families according to ancient tradition, they are sometimes married after death. This prevents them from haunting their loved ones, and ensures them a place in a line of descent, as women in China are not afforded that honor without being married. Ghost marriages under the pretense of keeping a spirit happy are sometimes initiated by the spirits themselves. Spirits tormented by their lack of spouse in the afterlife are known to seek out eligible bachelors and bachelorettes in the world of the living, or implore their family members to do so. This is traditionally the role of a female spirit seeking to enter a family line, but for the purpose of challenging the status quo, I decided to reverse the roles of bachelor and spirit in my story.
While researching the motivations for pursuing ghost marriage, I also uncovered some details on the rituals it entails. The ceremony itself is surprisingly traditional, adhering to the norm for Chinese weddings. The biggest differences come in the form of representation. Effigies made of cloth, paper, and/or bamboo represent the ghost or ghosts taking part in the ceremony, and paper versions of their wedding gifts and worldly belongings are crafted. At the end of the ceremony, these gifts are burned, and thus sent to the spirit world for use by the happy couple.
I will happily send anyone who wants to read the completed story a copy.