Something I’ve been fascinated by lately are ghost weddings that take the form of an interesting mixture of a wedding and a funeral combined. Rituals for ghost weddings differ between places like mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, among others.
Ghost weddings are said to be performed to pacify the dead and uphold traditions where younger brothers are not meant to marry before their older brothers. There are beliefs centered around the idea that a lack of a marriage equals to an incomplete life and that it is shameful to have unwedded daughters. Jobs with high fatalities such as construction and mining meant many men passed young and unmarried, and their families often struggle to find them a suitable match to accompany them in their afterlife.
Yet, in the past, there is the irony of the one-child policy favoring males, while the scarcity of brides increased the value of women, particularly in rural areas. This resulted in grave robbers stealing and selling corpses to serve as ghost brides and an increase in activities such as human trafficking or forced labor.
Families looking for a ghost bride or groom might also receive a priest or diviner’s consultation on matchmaking for their deceased child, or would place objects such as red pockets in public—and within them cash or locks of hair—and the first to pick it up must marry their child. Dowries may be up to 100,000+ yuan and accompanying gifts might include jewelry, clothing, tea, among others in the form of paper offerings.
Ghost weddings are most often performed between two deceased individuals, but on occasion there may be one living bride or groom who is sought out to perform the ceremony. As a part of the ritual, bamboo or other wooden effigies are created of the bride and/or groom and burned when the banquet ceremony ends. In more current times, there have been laws set in place to prevent ghost weddings between a deceased and living individual, where the requirement for a ghost wedding must be three years after both parties have been deceased, though the ritual proceedings and legality still widely vary depending on the place.
Below are some ghost wedding inspired works that I would highly recommend for interesting takes on the concept:
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
This book (also adapted for a Netflix series with the same name) follows a young woman named Li Lan who must become a ghost bride for the second son of a wealthy family to save her family from their troubled fiancés. The family she will marry into is a friend of her father’s and the son who had passed early is a childhood friend who Li Lan barely recalls but is someone who had been smitten with since their youth. Both the book and show are interwoven with mystery, supernatural horror, fantasy, and a gem for those who enjoy historical period pieces—and of course, ghost weddings.
Marry My Dead Body (2022)
This movie is humorous and emotional and on the lighter side, with a more wholesome tone compared to The Ghost Bride. Nonetheless, it tackles heavy topics through the premise of a ghost wedding: sexuality and identity, reincarnation, family and acceptance, and what is the true meaning of marriage, companionship, and love. I think what touched me most about this movie is the strength of the character development and the blossoming friendship between the living and the passed, and what they are able to teach one another despite their different circumstances, backgrounds, beliefs, and values, and the way their relationship to one another can reshape everything they had once thought they understood.
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The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
This is not a story about ghost weddings per say but rather about a wedding between ghosts/spirits. Rather than the marriage between the living and the dead, this story follows a young woman, Siew Tsin, who had passed before she could wed and was married off to a rich man in hell by her uncle (who is also a spirit), whose greed for wealth and a comfortable life in hell before reincarnation is far greater than any duty he feels towards his niece. However, when her new husband brings home a new terracotta wife, the new wife’s existence throws Siew Tsin’s quiet life in hell into turmoil.
This is a story that focuses on the finality of death, and the ability to obtain immortality and strength through technology, but also the appeal of reincarnation and fate despite the fear of moving forward, and the forgetting and letting go of a past life—particularly if the past life is one of comfort, wealth, and luxury. But at the heart of the story, we see how there are some things worth more than both immortality and material abundance.
Ghost Marriage: The Chinese Tradition Of Getting Dead People Married
Ghost Marriage in Twentieth-Century Chinese Literature: Between the Past and the Future
China’s ghost weddings and why they can be deadly
Married for the afterlife in China – Asia – Pacific – International Herald Tribune
Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore