MatrixLeaks: April 2013

Ghost Marriage




Ritual ghost marriages, which is believed to date back to the 17th century BC, is a custom in which parents find "spouses" for their unmarried, deceased children so that they can have a family in the afterlife.

The tradition is rare in contemporary China, but they are still practised in rural parts of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei and Guangdong provinces. Families often employ a matchmaker to help find a suitable spouse for their deceased loved ones.


Chinese media have reported cases of brokers murdering women and selling their bodies. In 2006, a man from northern Hebei province murdered six women and sold them as "ghost brides."

   Tradition

In Chinese tradition, a ghost marriage (Chinese: 冥婚; pinyin: mínghūn; literally "spirit marriage") is a marriage in which one or both parties are deceased. Other forms of ghost marriage are practiced worldwide, from Sudan, to India, to France since 1959. The origins of Chinese ghost marriage are largely unknown, and reports of it being practiced today can still be found.


Chinese ghost marriage was usually set up by the family of the deceased and performed for a number of reasons, including: the marriage of a couple previously engaged before one member’s death, to integrate an unmarried daughter into a patrilineage, to ensure the family line is continued, or to maintain that no younger brother is married before an elder brother.


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 at the ceremony. However, some girls were hesitant since this form of ghost marriage required her to participate in the funeral ritual, mourning customs (including strict dress and conduct standards), take a vow of celibacy, and immediately take up residence with his family. A groom also 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." Hence, the important duty of Chinese parents in marrying off their children becomes increasingly important for their daughters. Since women are only able to acquire membership in descent lines through marriage, ghost marriage became a viable solution to ensure that unmarried, deceased daughters still had "affiliation to a male descent line" and could be appropriately cared for after death.

Another death custom concerning an unmarried daughter prohibited her from dying in her natal home. Instead, a temple or "Death House" for spinsters was, or families take their daughter to a shed, empty house, or outlying buildings to die.


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". For girls that did in fact choose to remain unmarried, "bride-initiated spirit marriage" (or a ghost marriage initiated by a living bride) was a successful "marriage-resistance practice" that allowed them to remain single while still being integrated into a lineage. 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.

   Continuing the family line

If a son died before marriage, his parents arranged a ghost marriage in order to provide him with progeny to continue the lineage and give him his own descendants. "A man in China does not marry so much for his own benefit as for that of the family: to continue the family name; to provide descendants to keep up the ancestral worship; and to give a daughter-in-law to his mother to wait on her and be, in general, a daughter to her". Occasionally a live girl 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.

If the family was "suitably rich to tempt a [living] girl," the ghost marriage might also profit them with the asset of having a daughter-in-law. Since a daughter is not considered "a potential contributor to the lineage into which she is born," but rather "it is expected that she will give the children she bears and her adult labor to the family of her husband", the wife of a deceased son would benefit her husband’s family by becoming a caregiver in their home.

Once the deceased son had a wife, the family could adopt an heir, or a "grandson" to continue on the family line. 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 family preferred to adopt patrilineally-related male kin, usually through a brother assigning one of his own sons to the lineage of the deceased. 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.



Ghost marriages are often set up by request of the spirit of the deceased, who, upon "finding itself without a spouse in the other world," causes misfortune for its natal family, the family of its betrothed, or for the family of the deceased’s married sisters. "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."

More benignly, a spirit may appear to a family member in a dream and request a spouse. Marjorie Topley, in "Ghost Marriages Among the Singapore Chinese: A Further Note," relates the story of one fourteen-year old Cantonese boy who died. A month later he appeared to his mother in a dream saying that he wished to marry a girl who had recently died in Ipoh, Perak. The son did not reveal her name, but his mother used a Cantonese female spirit medium and "through her the boy gave the name of the girl together with her place of birth and age, and details of her horoscope which were subsequently found to be compatible with his.

In a ghost-marriage, many of the typical marriage rites are observed. However, since one or more parties is predeceased, they are otherwise represented, most often by effigies made of paper, bamboo, or cloth.

For instance, a ghost-couple at their marriage feast, the bride and groom may be constructed of paper bodies over a bamboo frame with a papier-mâché head. On either side of them stands their respective paper servants, and the room contains many other paper effigies of products they would use in their home, such as a dressing table (complete with a mirror), a table and six stools, a money safe, a refrigerator, and trunks of paper clothes and cloth. After the marriage ceremony is complete, all of the paper belongings are burned to be sent to the spirit world to be used by the couple.

In another ceremony that married a living groom to a ghost bride, the effigy was similar, but instead constructed with a wooden backbone, arms made from newspaper, and the head of "a smiling young girl clipped from a wall calendar." Similarly, after the marriage festivities, the dummy is burned. In both cases, the effigies wore real clothing, similar to that which is typically used in marriage ceremonies. This includes a pair of trousers, a white skirt, a red dress, with a lace outer dress. Additionally, they were adorned with jewelry; though similar in fashion to that of a typical bride’s, it was not made of real gold. If a living groom is marrying a ghost-bride, he will wear black gloves instead of the typical white. Most of the marriage ceremony and rites are performed true to Chinese custom. In fact, "the bride was always treated as though she was alive and participating in the proceedings" from being fed at the wedding feast in the morning, to being invited in and out of the cab, to being told of her arrival at the groom’s house. One observable difference in a ghost marriage is that the ancestral tablet of the deceased is placed inside the effigy, so that "the bride’s dummy [is] animated with the ghost that [is] to be married," and then placed with the groom’s family’s tablets at the end of the marriage festivities.

 
   Men jailed in China for "ghost marriage" corpse bride trafficking

A county court in central China has sentenced four men to prison for digging up and selling corpses on the black market to enable "ghost marriages", a millennia-old custom of burying deceased bachelors alongside newly deceased wives so that they will not grow lonely in the afterlife.

On Saturday, the Xi'an Evening News reported that the Yanchuan county court in Yan'an City, Shanxi province, sentenced each of the men to more than two years in prison for stealing 10 female corpses, cleaning them up and counterfeiting their medical records to boost their prices, and selling them on the black market for a total of £25,000.

This is not the first time that ghost marriage intermediaries have fallen on the wrong side of the law. One woman died over the lunar new year in February 2012 and was sold by her family to the family of a recently deceased young man for about £3,700; soon afterwards, police  caught a graverobber selling her twice-exhumed body to another family for slightly less.







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Financial Hell



( A bailout is a colloquial pejorative term for giving a loan to a company or country which faces serious financial difficulty or bankruptcy. It may also be used to allow a failing entity to fail gracefully without spreading contagion. The term is maritime in origin being the act of removing water from a sinking vessel using a smaller bucket )


   The Cyprus bail-out


The good news for the eurozone was that the markets reacted well to the bailout deal for Cyprus. The bad news was that the rally lasted barely until lunchtime. By then investors were running scared at the prospect that the terms imposed on one of the single currency's smaller members would be the template for rescue packages for bigger countries.


It is  not a fudge, but it is still a failure. The euro zone’s bail-out of Cyprus, which was sealed in the early hours of Saturday (16.03.2013), did get the bill for creditor countries down from €17 billion to €10 billion, as had been rumoured. But the way it did so was somewhat unexpected.


Almost €6 billion of the savings for taxpayers in euro-zone countries came from losses imposed on depositors in Cyprus’s outsize banks. A one-off 9.9% levy will be imposed on all deposits over the insurance threshold of €100,000 before banks reopen after a bank holiday on Monday. That idea had been in the air for a while, not least because a lot of those uninsured deposits came from outside Cyprus, and from Russia in particular. The politics of saving wealthy Russians with money loaned by thrifty Germans were always going to be tricky.

What had not been anticipated was a 6.75% loss for savers with deposits in Cypriot banks below the insurance ceiling. Cypriots woke up this morning to find bank branches closed to them. By the time they will be able to get at their money, it will be too late. The offer of equity in banks to replace the value of their savings is meant to be a balm but it’s not a choice they would have made. Why this decision was taken is not yet clear. The most plausible explanation is that the Cypriot government itself preferred to spread the pain rather than wipe out non-resident depositors and jeopardise its long-term prospects as an offshore financial centre for Russian and other money.

Whatever the rationale, it is a mistake for three reasons. The first error is to reawaken contagion risk elsewhere in the euro zone. Depositors have come through the financial crisis largely unscathed. Now they have been bailed in, some of them in breach of an explicit promise that they can be sure of getting their money back even if a bank goes belly-up.

Euro-zone leaders will spin the deal as reflecting the unique circumstances surrounding Cyprus, just as they did the Greek debt restructuring last year. But if you were a depositor in a peripheral country that looked like it needed more money from the euro zone, what would your calculation be? That you would never be treated like the people in Cyprus, or that a precedent had been set which reflected the consistent demands of creditor countries for burden-sharing? The chances of big, destabilising movements of money (into cash, if not into other banks) have just shot up.


The second error is one of equity. There is an argument to be made over the principles of bailing in uninsured depositors. And there is a case for hitting everyone in Cypriot banks before any taxpayer in another country. But there is no moral imperative for whacking Cypriot widows and leaving senior bank bondholders untouched, as appears to be the case here; or not imposing any losses on sovereign-debt investors in Cyprus; or protecting depositors in the Greek operations of Cypriot banks, as has also happened. The euro zone may cloak this bail-out in the language of fairness but it is a highly selective treatment. Indeed, the euro zone’s insistence that this is a one-off makes that perfectly plain: with enough foreigners at risk and a small enough country to push around, you get an outcome like Cyprus. (That is one reason why people are now wondering about the implications of this deal for little Latvia, also home to lots of Russian money and itself due to join the euro zone in 2014.)

The final error is strategic. The Cypriot deal has no coherence in the larger context. The euro crisis has been in abeyance for a few months, thanks largely to the readiness of the European Central Bank to intervene to help struggling countries. The ECB’s price for helping countries is to insist they go into a bail-out programme. The political price of going into a programme has just gone up, so the ECB’s safety net looks a little thinner.

The bail-out appears to move Europe further away from the institutional reforms that are needed to resolve the crisis once and for all. Rather than using the European Stability Mechanism to recapitalise banks, and thereby weaken the link between banks and their governments, the euro zone continues to equate bank bail-outs with sovereign bail-outs. As for debt mutualisation, after imposing losses on local depositors, the price of support from the rest of Europe is arguably costlier now than it ever has been.

                                                                  Image Credit: Bloomberg

It is also hard to square this outcome with the ongoing overhaul of finance. The direction of efforts to improve banks’ liquidity position is to encourage them to hold more deposits; the aim of bail-in legislation planned to come into force by 2018 is to make senior debt absorb losses in the event of a bank failure. The logic behind both of these reform initiatives is that bank deposits have two, contradictory properties. They are both sticky, because they are insured; and they are flighty, because they can be pulled instantly. So deposits are a good source of funding provided they never run. The Cyprus bail-out makes this confidence trick harder to pull off.




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