Chinese police capture gang who killed grannies to sell bodies
Last year, Chinese police arrested a man who killed six women in Hebei so that he could sell their bodies for "weddings of the dead".
Police in South China have reportedly arrested nine suspects for murdering elderly or infirm villagers and selling their bodies.
The corpse-selling operation was designed to help wealthy families to avoid having to cremate their relatives.
Cremation is mandatory in most areas of Guangdong. Proper burials, traditionally an important sign of Confucian filial piety, were outlawed by the Communist Party in many areas in order to conserve farmland and avoid superstition.
Families who bought corpses from the group swapped them with their own relatives and sent them off for cremation. They could then bury their loved ones in secret.
As many as 400 people may have been killed, according to Apple Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper which conducted an investigation into the practice.
The victims were usually followed and then strangled in the rural areas of Yangmei, Nanxi, Puning and Jieyang and then sold in the Chaoshan Region, a rich urbanised part of the province.
According to one villager, Liu Shiduo, a young couple had been attacked with a rope on the evening of August 11 but had got away from their attackers and reported them to the police. During the subsequent raids, one suspect revealed the operation. The rest of the group was rounded up on the basis of his confession.
The newspaper said the gang drove their minibus up behind elderly or mentally-ill victims, grabbed them and then either strangled them or poisoned them. It was considered bad luck to spill their blood. The corpses were then sold for around 10,000 yuan each (£800).
According to other villagers, the practise has been going on for several years, and there are a number of missing people in almost every village. Parents in Yangmei have imposed a curfew on their children.
The Public Security Department in Guangdong declined to comment on the story, while the local police station in Puning denied there had been a spree of murders.
Arranged marriages for the dead are another ancient tradition in some parts of China and it is widely rumoured that "ghost brides" are also available in Guangdong. Song Tiantang, the suspect, admitted that he had started selling brides in 1998.
In Guangdong's rural areas, burials are sometimes permitted but for a fee ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 yuan. Officials have been known to dig up decomposing corpses if relatives have not paid their dues, a practise that has caused widespread anger.
Eighteen cemetery officials in Hong Kong have been arrested for taking bribes to allow bodies buried in the island's overcrowded graveyards to be dug up from temporary graves.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said staff were alleged to have allowed exhumation in cases where the lease on the plot had expired but the occupant had not fully decomposed.