Beijing: Theft of corpses is on the rise in rural Shanxi as the old custom of 'ghost marriage' has resurfaced in the northern Chinese province.
Shanxi's Hongtong County has reported at least three dozen thefts of female corpses in the last three years, Xinhua news agency quoted police officer Lin Xu as saying.
In ghost marriage rituals, female skeletons are reinforced with steel wires and clothed before they are buried alongside dead bachelors as 'ghost brides.'
Failure to find a burial partner for unmarried male relatives is thought to bring bad luck, according to rural folk belief.
Ghost marriage rituals were practiced throughout China's feudal dynasties and were especially popular in the 10th century during the Song Dynasty.
The government ordered people to cease the practice after the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. However, rural Chinese people, who tend to uphold old customs and rituals, have continued the practice using pictures or dummies made of paper or dough.
As wealth has increased, the practice of using real corpses has returned to some rural areas of Shanxi, Henan and Shaanxi provinces.
Chang Sixin, deputy director of the China Folk Literature and Art Association, said there were even matchmaking agents and companies to pair dead bachelors with the corpses of women.
In Quting Village, Jing Gouzi bought a corpse to accompany his older brother, who had remained single until death, in burial.
"I thought of using a woman made of dough, but the old men in our village insisted only real bodies could prevent misfortune," said the villager.
According to Chinese criminal law, those who steal or defile a corpse are subject to up to three years in prison. The light punishment has failed to deter corpse traffickers seeking profit.
A fresh female corpse can fetch up to 100,000 yuan (about $15,600), and even a body that has been buried for decades can be sold for around 5,000 yuan.
Corpse theft is difficult to investigate as it is hard to find evidence, police said.