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The Religious System of China. Volume II (1894)
Extrait: Posthumous weddings

Une édition électronique réalisée à partir du texte de l'ouvrage de Johann Jacob Maria de Groot, The Religious System of China. its ancient forms, evolution, history and present aspect. Manners, customs and social institutions connected therewith. Volume II. Book I. Disposal of the Dead : Part III. The Grave (first half). Édition originale, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1894, 468 pages + illustrations. Réimpression : Literature House, Ltd, Taipei, Taiwan, 1964. Une édition réalisée par Pierre Palpant, bénévole, Paris.


Posthumous weddings

Human immolations at burials naturally imply the prevalence of a conception that it is urgently necessary to be accompanied into the next life by a wife or concubines, to prevent one’s being doomed there to the dreary life of a solitary widower. Consequently, it is only natural that in ancient China there existed the curious custom of placing deceased females in the tombs of lads who died before they were married. The prevalence in those times of such post‑mortem weddings for the next world is revealed to us by the following passage in the Cheu li :

« The Officer charged with the Preparation of Marriages is to prevent women already buried from being transferred to other tombs, to be thus given in marriage to deceased minor youths.

The legislators of the time, disliking the sacrilegious removal of women from their graves, deemed themselves in duty bound to forbid the practice in question ; but they do not appear to have included in their Veto such marrying of deceased women at the time of their burial. The latter weddings may a fortiori be supposed to have been very common ; and that they were firmly rooted in the then customs and manners of the people may be inferred from the fact that they have prevailed ever since, being frequently mentioned in the books of all ages. This point is of sufficient interest to deserve illustration by a short series of quotations.

In the Memoirs of the Three Kingdoms we read :

« The daughter of Ping Yuen died when still young, at the same time as Ts’ang- shu, the favourite son of the emperor T’ai Tsu (A. D. 220-227), breathed his last. The Emperor tried to have them buried in the same grave, but Yuen refused his consent, saying that such burials were not recognized by the laws of morals. Therefore the prince was betrothed to a deceased daughter of the family Chen, and she was placed with him in the same grave. And when Shuh, the young daughter of the emperor Ming of the same dynasty (A. D. 227-239), had died, he buried together with her one Hwang, a grandson of the brother of the empress Chen, conferred the posthumous title of Imperial Prince upon him, and appointed for him a Continuator with the hereditary rank of a noble.

This event becomes all the more curious when we are told that this Hwang was a mere baby. It is in fact stated in the Standard Annals of that time that the magnate Ch’en Khiün rebuked the emperor for having the obsequies of this child, though not a year old, conducted with the same ceremonies as appertained to up-grown people. Post-mortem marriages in those times being concluded even in the Imperial family, and between infants so very young, we may safely draw the conclusion that they were the order of the day between adults among the people.

To convince our readers that such marriages were of frequent occurrence in ensuing ages, we need not make a large number of quotations. A couple of instances, drawn from the Imperial courtlife, will suffice. 

« Ping-ch’ing, Son of Muh Ch’ung, died when he was still young. During the reign of Hiao Wen (A. D. 471-499), the Imperial princess Shi-p’ing died in the Palace. The posthumous dignity of Prince Consort was then conferred upon P’ing-ch’ing, and he was united with the princess in marriage for the World of Shades.

Three centuries afterwards,

« the Imperial concubine Wei caused her deceased younger brother Siün, after the dignity of Prince of Jü-nan had been conferred upon him, to be united in marriage for the next life with a deceased daughter of (Siao) Chi-chung, and she had them buried together in one grave. But after this lady Wei had been defeated (in an attempt to usurp the throne), Chi-chung opened the grave, took his daughter’s coffin out of it and brought it home,

thus showing that the ties of relationship with a traitress to the cause of lawful government were cut off by him.

An interesting account of the manner in which such post‑mortem marriages were concluded at the period when the Sung dynasty governed the Empire, is given by a contemporary work in the following words :

« In the northern parts of the Realm it is customary, when an unmarried youth and an unmarried girl breathe their last, that the two families each charge a match-maker to demand the other party in marriage. Such go-betweens are called : match-makers for disembodied souls. They acquaint the two families with each other’s circumstances, and then cast lots for the marriage by order of the parents on both sides. If they augur that the union will be a happy one, (wedding) garments for the next world, are cut out and the match-makers repair to the grave of the lad, there to set out wine and fruit for the consummation of the marriage. Two seats are placed side by side, and a small streamer is set up near each seat. If these streamers move a little after the libation has been performed, the souls are believed to approach each other : but if one of them does not move, the party represented thereby is considered to disapprove of the marriage. Each family has to-reward its match-maker with a present of woven stuffs. Such go-betweens make a regular livelihood out of these proceedings.

Concerning wedding tables for the living we refer our renders to page 763, and streamers and banners which harbour human souls have been described on pages 125 and 174.

The following instance of a marriage between deceased persons, which occurred in the fourteenth century, must not be passed unnoticed, because it proves more clearly than any other case on record that in times relatively modern the old conception still obtained that a wife’s place is at the side of her deceased husband in the life hereafter, and that she may not suffer another woman to occupy her place there.

« Madam Yang was a native of Sü-ch’ing in Tung-p’ing (province of Shantung). Her husband Kwoh San marched off for Siang-yang with the army, and she, being left behind, served her parents-in-law so perfectly that she obtained a great repute for filial devotion. In the sixth year of the period Chi yuen (A. D. 1340) her husband died in his garrison. Then her own mother laid schemes for taking her home and marrying her again, but, bitterly wailing, she took such an oath that these schemes were not carried out. After some time, when the mortal remains of her husband were brought home, her father-in-law said :
— She, having been married to him only a short time and being still young, will certainly marry again in the end ; ought I to leave my son under the ground in a state of loneliness ?

But when he was on the point of requesting a fellow villager to give him the bones of his deceased daughter, that he might bury them in the same grave with his son, Madam Yang being informed of his project became still more overwhelmed by grief, and refused all food. Five days afterwards she hung herself, upon which she was buried with her husband in the same grave.

Such posthumous marriages are peculiarly interesting as showing that the almost unlimited power of parents in choosing wives or husbands for their children does not cease to exist even when the latter have been removed to the Realms of Death, so that in fact children are there subject to the will of their parents. They further prove how faint the line of demarcation between the living and the dead is in China, even if it exist at all.

Retour au texte de l'auteur: Jean-Marc Fontan, sociologue, UQAM Dernière mise à jour de cette page le dimanche 21 octobre 2007 15:50
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue
professeur de sociologie au Cégep de Chicoutimi.

Saguenay - Lac-Saint-Jean, Québec
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