Until death do us part

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I read with interest an article in The Age newspaper discussing the ancient Chinese tradition of marriage for the afterlife.  Marriage is such an important social ritual for the Chinese, securing the future of the family.  Even today, the hope is still to produce a son to carry on the family name.  And in a society where the elderly are a respected and nurtured part of the family, marriage means you will be taken care of into your old age, even if it means raising your grandchildren.

Throughout China, anxious parents spend their weekends at park fairs where they can submit their child’s details and search for prospective son or daughter in laws.  More and more young Chinese are putting off marriage in lieu of study, careers and world travel.  Marriage, whilst still a necessary part of life, is slowly being seen as something that can wait and more importantly, should now have an emphasis on finding your true love.

Parents matchmaking in a Beijing park

Parents matchmaking in a Beijing park

So it really came as no surprise to me to read about marriage for the afterlife.  It’s a practice that has been around for centuries, known as minghun, marrying those who died young as a way of securing a happy afterlife.  This played a particularly important role for women, for whom “an afterlife marriage is the only way to access a male bloodline, esuring descendants to care for her spirit beyond the grave.”

Sadly I see no reference to families going about this macabre practice for their deceased daughters.  It would appear only the sons are worthy of such a marriage.  Historically, women who were already engaged to a man who died prematurely were encouraged to join their husband-to-be in the grave, with many poisoning or hanging themselves.  The alternative was to live with the man’s family as their domestic slave.

This practice has recently resurfaced into modern day times, with the reporting of abductions throughout China of young women to satisfy the families of men who have died single.  These women become the corpse bride of the deceased, with families paying up to four times their annual income to secure a body.  Whilst I’m sure the actuality of this happening is very rare, it certainly highlights the complexities of Chinese society and the length that some families will go to, to not only ensure the happiness of their “little emperor” but to guarantee the future prosperity of their family and ancestors even beyond the grave.

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