Taiwan Posthumous Marriage

Have you heard of Taiwanese posthumous marriage?

Recently, there’s interesting news in Taiwan about a western guy who picked up a red envelop (紅包hóngbāo) in the streets. He happily showed it to his Taiwanese wife since he thought they got money. But to his surprise, upon seeing the envelop, she told him that it’s not acceptable because it’s a custom called posthumous marriage (冥婚 mínghūn). The rule is, once you pick up the envelop, you should marry the dead bride. The western guy was freaked out and threw the red envelop right away.

History and practice of posthumous marriage

Actually, this special Taiwanese custom can date back to Ancient China and we can find its earliest historical record in the literature of Zhou Dynasty (周朝 Zhōucháo, 1046 BC-249 BC). Nowadays, it still exists in Taiwan and some parts of China.

Types of posthumous marriage

There are two types of posthumous marriage. One is between two dead people, and the other is between a dead person and another person who is still alive. Usually, people conduct this custom out of their fear and empathy towards those who left the world remaining unmarried. For example, if a couple dies together before marrying, their parents will arrange posthumous marriage for them. Or if one of them dies earlier, the living girlfriend or boyfriend might propose posthumous marriage in the name of love and fidelity. As a result, you may see a combination of funeral and wedding, in which people mourn for the dead and congratulate the family on the marriage at the same time.

But what if the person dies without having a relationship?

Search for the Mr. or Miss Right

Sometimes, ghosts even appear in their family members’ dreams to express their willing to get married. Consequently, the family writes down their birthdate on a note and put it in a red envelop along with some cash, hair and nails of the dead and then places it in the streets to wait for the “destined” person. When someone finally picks it up, the family hiding nearby will immediately come out and ask the person to marry the dead. And normally, this “destined” person is not allowed to refuse. That’s the reason why parents usually warn their children not to pick up red envelops in the streets.

Furthermore, ghosts also select their living spouse! There are some incredible cases like this: a guy randomly walked by the funeral or the tomb of a female stranger and then the ghost just fell in love with him. From this moment on, she started to appear in the dreams of this guy and made him have no choice but to find her family and propose posthumous marriage.

On the other hand, believe it or not, there are also living people who search for posthumous marriage. Let’s say, it’s out of their own willingness.

Other reasons to marry a ghost

Some people want to marry a ghost because they have really bad luck. They believe that their ghost spouse can protect them from harm and even bring them considerable fortune. Some of them even share their own experience and prove that it’s not just nonsense or superstition. Others do it since the fortuneteller says they are doomed to have an affair or more than one opposite-sex in their life. To avoid this from happening, they conduct posthumous marriage to let the ghost spouse “fills up” the “vacancy”.

Taboos and must-dos

After the wedding ceremony, this “destined” person should sleep alone – can’t interact in sexual activity with the other opposite sex – some days, one week or even one month. If this person is already married to another living person, due to the respect towards the dead, the ghost spouse will have the priority over the current one. Moreover, between the dead and the living spouse they should address each other “sibling”. If the person would like to marry someone else, he or she should first ask for the ghost spouse’s permission. When setting the table, the family needs to prepare one more set of tableware and leave a seat empty for the ghost. Before digging in, the person should also call his or her ghost spouse’s name as if she or he were still alive.

Posthumous marriage movie:

Married to a Ghost (2015)

Taiwanese movie: Married to a ghost (2015)

There’s a Taiwanese comedy movie titled “Married To A Ghost” (把我娶回家 Bǎ wǒ qǔ huí jiā, literal translation is “Marry me back home”). It describes how a western traveler accidentally picks up a red envelop and gets involved in the marriage with a Taiwanese girl who already passed away. Through the movie, the audience can not only learn more about this special culture but also see how this western young man experiences and conquers the culture shock and gets along with the traditional Taiwanese family in Sānyì (三義), a small town famous for its woodcarving in mid-west Taiwan.

Let’s take a look at some classic phrases in this movie.

posthumous marriage

Married to a ghost

When seeing Leo, the western young man, picks up the red envelop, the family shows up and tells him:

你撿到這個要結婚哪! Nǐ jiǎn dào zhège yào jiéhūn na!

Picking this up means you should get married!

posthumous marriage

Married to a ghost

At first Leo finds it ridiculous and says:

你開玩笑吧?! Nǐ kāiwánxiào ba?!

You are kidding me, aren’t you?!

posthumous marriage

Married to a ghost

However, after being “kidnapped” to the dead girl’s house, Leo realizes that it’s not a joke at all. He then tries to reject and apologizes to the family:

對不起,我沒辦法! Duìbùqǐ, wǒ méi bànfǎ!

Sorry, I can’t do it!

Since the family insists a lot, Leo has no choice but to stay and live with them. But actually he is planning to escape from this crazy marriage. As for what happens in the end, I’d rather keep it a secret here and let you figure out by yourselves.

No matter if you find this tradition interesting, curious, superstitious or creepy, I would only like to give you a piece of useful advice:

Watch out for those red envelops on the ground if you don’t want a ghost spouse!

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