The lead suspect in the case, identified only by his surname Wang, told interrogators the fresher the bodies, the more they are worth.
“Years-old carcasses are not worth a damn, while the ones that have just died are valuable,” Wang stated in a news broadcast. “They could be sold for somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 yuan,” he added.
As shocking as the news may seem, even more appalling is the fact that marrying off deceased and/or living people to dead partners in China is an actual practice.
Also known as “spirit marriages,” such unions may date back to the 17th century BC, and although becoming increasingly rare in modern-day China, ghost marriages still take place in several rural provinces such as Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei and Guangdong.
“It is believed that if a person dies unmarried, they will be alone in the afterlife and haunt still-living family members, so the deceased's living relatives must find them a dead spouse to keep them company,” according to a Huffington Post article on the bizarre ritual.
Although the ruling Communist Party opposes and discourages such beliefs and customs, stats show that a recent surge in the illegal corpse trade has been observed in China with instances of grave robbing are becoming more frequent.
In March 2013, a Chinese county court sentenced four men to prison for digging up and selling corpses on the black market to enable ghost marriages.
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 robber selling her twice-exhumed body to another family for slightly less.
In 2009, a grieving father in Xianyang City, also in Shaanxi province, paid a team of grave thieves £2,700 to find a suitable bride for his son, who had died in a car crash. They were arrested for exhuming the remains of a teenage girl who had killed herself not long after failing her college entrance exams.