Thu, Jul 06, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Wedding a Taiwanese ghost in a Korean dress

Korean-American Maria Yoon participated in a ghost marriage ceremony in New Taipei City on Saturday as the penultimate stop of her 11-year-long journey as Maria the Korean Bride

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Taoist Priest Wang Wen-cheng, left, conducts the ghost wedding for Maria Yoon, right, and Howard Chen, who is represented by the memorial tablet held by Tsou Tsung-han.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

When Maria Yoon learned that three men in China had killed two mentally disabled women to sell as brides, she was all the more determined to get married again. It would be her 53rd time doing so.

But fate intervened and she wound up in Taiwan ready to tie the knot with a dead husband.

And though both countries share the concept of appeasing dead relatives, Yoon learned that Taiwan’s practice is strikingly different than China’s — at least nobody is killed to become an unmarried dead man’s bride in the afterlife.

Intrigued, the Korean-American decided to visit both countries. She has “wed” men, women, animals and inanimate objects. Now she would be marrying two ghosts. The following details her experiences at Yunshan Temple (雲山巖) in New Taipei City’s Sijhih District (汐止).

THE GODS SAY NO

Yoon, also known as Maria the Korean Bride, is a performance artist who has had 52 wedding ceremonies in 52 US states and territories in response to familial pressure to wed.

The task to find Yoon a ghost fell to expat filmmaker Tobie Openshaw and Katy Hung (洪惠文), who is familiar with Taoist practitioners through her research on Taiwanese banquet cuisine.

Yoon insisted on finding a corpse despite people telling her that its ghost might follow her for the rest of her life and, if malevolent, might even kill her.

Yoon takes it all in stride.

“If it’s my time, then I’ll go.”

Openshaw and Hung did find a dead person — the deceased brother of a Taoist priest’s wife — but the priest cast divination blocks three times and the deity said no each time. He tried another temple, but with the same result. They then decided to make do with a invented ghost at Yunshan Temple.

The priest’s services cost about NT$30,000 — the first time Yoon has had to pay for any of her 53 wedding.

To show her respect for the ritual, Yoon bought jewelry, props and took cooking classes to learn how to make pineapple cake and other sweets for the guests.

MARRYING THE DEAD

On Saturday, she married Howard Chen (陳豪爾), a name Yoon invented. Her experiences will be made into a documentary as she continues to explore the institution of marriage.

“The societal pressure on women to marry continues after death,” she says.

Ghost marriages in Taiwan mostly involve men marrying female ghosts, since unmarried women are not included on a husband’s family registry and have no descendants to take care of her spirit in the afterlife. The woman’s family finds her a groom so her spirit can be at peace.

Yoon says she was fascinated by how ghost marriages brought comfort to the dead person’s living relatives, knowing that she would rest in peace.

“Love still matters after you are dead,” she says.

The Taoist priest who conducted the wedding, Wang Wen-cheng (王文正), says that women rarely marry male ghosts since they are not allowed to marry a living man later.

“[Yoon] is marrying a fake person, so it doesn’t matter in this case,” he says.

Wang says that ghost marriages were once common in northern Taiwan, but not so much anymore. He last performed a ghost wedding five years ago for a couple involved in a car accident. The man, who was paralyzed from the waist down, married his dead girlfriend.

“Times are changing, and as people’s general knowledge increases, they can no longer accept these old traditions,” he says, adding that the influx of foreign religions has also made people wary of such practices.

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