According to Chinese tradition, the dead are never truly gone. They maintain their connection with loved ones, and can influence their lives even from beyond the grave. If the survivors don’t treat the memory of the deceased with sufficient respect, they risk ill fortune.
The manner in which the dead are buried has always played a big part in keeping their spirits content, and feng shui doctrine features a host of specific rules as to how that should be done.
But those rules apply to bodies, and these days Chinese law is making it harder and harder to bury an actual body: Cremation, long supported by the government, is now mandatory in many places.
The chief reason is that Chinese graves can be large and elaborate, and the country is simply running out of space. Authorities don’t want to sacrifice land to the dead when it might be used to feed or house the living instead.
But leave it to a bunch of thugs in Guangdong province, both organized groups and individuals, to come up with an entrepreneurial solution to this problem. For the last few years, criminals have been murdering the old and the disabled and selling their bodies to the families of the recently bereaved.
And how would that help those families? It allows them to send the murdered bodies for cremation, claiming they are their own deceased. This leaves them free to bury their real loved ones in secret, in a more traditional manner.
It appears that most victims have been killed in rural areas, and their bodies transported for sale to more prosperous, urban areas. The going price for one of these gruesome decoys? Ten-thousand yuan, about $1,500.
Suspicion first arose when the number of missing-person posters began to climb in the Jiexing and Puning areas. Authorities estimate that as many as 400 people have been killed to date. Many arrests have been made, dating back to 1998. Whether those have included buyers of the bodies as well as sellers is not clear.