April 5 (UPI) -- Chinese villagers are willing to pay as much as $26,000 for female corpses they can bury with dead unmarried male relatives.
The practice of "ghost marriages," where Chinese pay their respects to the deceased with a gift of a "bride" in the afterlife, persists in rural areas despite the exorbitant costs to families.
The Chinese Communist Party banned the practice in 1949, but in recent years the tradition has returned, and with it a surge in "corpse bride"-related crimes and tomb raids, the South China Morning Post and Xinhua reported.
Trade continues because criminals can make a fortune in finding and selling dead bodies, sometimes by murder, according to the report.
In 2015, a man was arrested in Liangcheng County, Inner Mongolia, for killing a woman so that he could profit from the sale of her body to a family seeking a corpse bride.
Most of the trade in corpses takes place in north China.
In Hongtong County in Shanxi Province, 27 female bodies were reported stolen since 2013.
But more bodies could be missing because of underreporting, according to the Post.
Families who elect to purchase a corpse bride for burial are also not safe from theft.
Zhang Gainong, a Hongtong County resident who paid $26,145 for a young girl's body, said he has to check his dead son's tomb to make sure tomb raiders have not stolen the body to be resold.
Going with a dummy body is not an option in some villages, where elders tell families that such a practice would "set a bad example" for children, said another resident.
In April 2016, three men were arrested in the slaying of two women with mental disabilities.
Police in northwest China said one of the men wanted to sell the bodies for "ghost weddings."