This article is about the Chinese practice of marriage among deceased individuals. The origins of Chinese ghost marriage are largely unknown, and reports of it being practiced today can be found. Upon the death of her fiancé, a bride could choose to go through with the wedding, in which the groom was represented by a white cockerel the ghost bride pdf download the ceremony. A groom had the option of marrying his late fiancée, with no disadvantages, but there have been no records of such weddings.
When it comes to death customs, an unmarried Chinese woman has no descendants to worship her or care for her as part of a lineage. In every household, an altar is prominently displayed with the spirit tablets of the paternal ancestors and the images of the gods. A married woman’s tablet is kept at the altar of her husband’s family.
However, should a woman of eligible age pass away unmarried, her family is prohibited from placing her tablet on the altar of her natal home. Instead, she will be “given a temporary paper tablet, placed not on the domestic altar but in a corner near the door. Another death custom concerning an unmarried daughter prohibited her from dying in her natal home. Not only did the Chinese customs concerning death greatly burden the family, but an unmarried daughter became a source of great embarrassment and concern.
In Charlotte Ikels “Parental Perspectives on the Significance of Marriage” she reports, “Traditionally, girls who did not marry were regarded as a threat to the entire family and were not allowed to continue living at home. Even in contemporary Hong Kong, I was told that unmarried women are assumed to have psychological problems.
Presumably no normal person would remain unmarried voluntarily. However, it did come with some negative connotations, being called a “fake spirit-marriage” or referred to as “marrying a spirit tablet”, and a way to avoid marriage. If a son died before marriage, his parents arranged a ghost marriage to provide him with progeny to continue the lineage and give him his own descendants.
Occasionally, a live woman is taken as a wife for a dead man, but this is rare. The ceremony itself took on characteristics of both a marriage and a funeral, with the spirit of the deceased bride being “led” by a medium or priest, while her body is transferred from her grave to be laid next to her husband. The purpose of the daughter-in-law was not to produce offspring, as she was to live a chaste life, but she became the “social instrument” to enable the family to adopt. The adoption was carried out by writing up a contract, which was then placed under the dead man’s tablet.
As an adopted son, his duties were to make ancestral offerings on his birth and death dates, and he was additionally “entitled to inherit his foster father’s share of the family estate. This usually takes the form of sickness by one or more family members. When the sickness is not cured by ordinary means, the family turns to divination and learns of the plight of the ghost through a séance.