Police in northwestern China have charged a man with murdering two mentally disabled women and selling their corpses for use in “ghost” weddings.
The custom of marrying a couple, one of whom, or both, are deceased has been practised in China for centuries. They are carried out, for example, either to bring an unmarried, living woman into the lineage of a deceased man’s family, or to join two dead individuals in perpetual matrimony after death. Such weddings also are arranged to comfort unmarried spirits that might otherwise haunt the family of the deceased.
Weddings involving dead people have long been a thorn in the side of the Chinese government. Mao Zedong targeted the practice in his drive to rid the country of unscientific and superstitious customs. The sale of corpses was made illegal in 2006. In spite of the ban, the practice continues to this day, particularly in rural areas of China’s northern and northwestern regions.
In this latest case, a traffic policeman discovered the body of a woman in a van near the city of Yanan, in the northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi, on April 13. This led to the discovery of another murder involving the same perpetrator. In both cases, the women were killed in Gansu province and their bodies transported to the neighboring province of Shaanxi.
Since then, two other people in addition to the murderer have been charged with crimes related to the deaths of the two women, including concealing the murder and trafficking women.
According to a report issued Monday by the police in Yulin City, Shaanxi, the main suspect in the case, a man surnamed Ma from Gansu, was an acquaintance of the mother of the first victim, a mentally disabled woman identified only by her family name Liu. The police in the city could not be reached for comment on Tuesday morning.
According to the report, the suspect Ma told Liu’s mother he would he would find her daughter a marriage partner, and invited Liu out of her home on this pretext. Once he was alone with Liu, Ma injected his victim with heavy sedatives, and Liu died from an overdose, according to the police report.
Ma then paid a man surnamed Yang to transport Liu’s body in his van from Gansu to Yulin. There they met with a resident surnamed Qiu, who acted as an agent, introducing Ma to potential buyers of Liu’s corpse. Ma received 35,000 yuan ($5,263) for the body. For his part as middleman, Qiu received 5,000 yuan. It was not immediately clear how much Yang the driver was paid for his role.
Three months later, Ma was up to his murderous ways again, the report suggests. With the help of two accomplices, he identified another potential victim in a disabled woman surnamed An. Her murder followed an almost identical pattern to Liu’s, right down to the lethal injection. Once again, Ma enlisted Yang’s services with the same destination in mind — Yulin, where arrangements had been made for the corpse to “marry” the son of a resident surnamed Chen, according to the police.
But the corpse never made it to its final destination, as Yang was intercepted en route by traffic police.
Ma has been charged with homicide and trafficking of women, while Yang has been charged with concealing the murder. One person involved in An’s abduction has also been arrested for trafficking women.
Additional reporting by Yin Yijun. With contributions from Owen Churchill.
(Header image: A ghost wedding ceremony for two dead teenagers is held in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, May 6, 2016. The groom was beaten to death by a group of boys; the body of the bride was purchased by his family. Chen Wei/VCG)