Netherworld Marriage in Ancient China: Its Historical Evolution and Ideological Background

Chunjun Gu, Keqian Xu


The netherworld marriage or the wedding for dead persons is a folk religious ritual in ancientChina. It is based on ancient Chinese folk belief of afterlife in the netherworld. Through a textual research and investigation based on relevant historical records and other ancient documents, as well as some archeological discoveries, this paper tries to give a brief account of the origin and development of netherworld marriage and its cultural and ideological background in ancient China. It finds that netherworld marriage might originate from human sacrifice in early ancient times, and its name varies in different periods. It has gone through its prevailing in the Tang Dynasty, declining in the Song and Yuan Dynasties, and reviving again in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. During the long history, this custom was generally criticized and condemned by orthodoxy Confucian intellectuals, yet it was practiced and sometimes even prevailed among both noble class and common people, due to its deep root in the folk belief. The paper also intends to clarify some misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning the study of this unique cultural phenomenon.


netherworld marriage, ancient China, folk religion, afterlife, Confucianism

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