In the 17th century, grave robbing was a common occurrence. People wanted to find spouses for their dead relatives’ afterlives, believing that even in death they should have company. In order to make their dead happy, they robbed graves to find women’s bodies to place in graves alongside their dead male relatives. It is now rare to see grave robbing in that form in today’s Chinese society. Today, when grave robbing occurs it is often more likely that these thieves are trying to steal relics to sell for money.
Grave burials are the main funeral style in ancient China. The Chinese people believe that after they die their souls will live in another world and protect their descendants. It is therefore the family’s responsibility to grieve the dead in order to make sure the soul of the dead rests in peace. People also bury funerary objects for the dead, regardless of whether they are wealthy. They give what they can. Rich families might bury gold, bronze, or pottery, whereas poor families may bury clay products or copper. People think the higher quality the objects buried with the deceased are, the better the lives these deceased will have in the other world.
After robbers steal from the grave, they typically smuggle the funeral objects through Guangzhou or Shenzhen to generous buyers. Other times they simply stock them at their distribution centers and eventually transfer the goods to Hong Kong, or abroad.
In recent years, people have begun to pay more attention to the act of grave robbing. This added scrutiny is mainly because the Chinese have begun to increase their desire to preserve ancient artifacts. However, grave robbing remains a fixture in modern culture. In the summer of 2015, the famous novel called The Lost Tomb was made into a TV series. It was a hit with public audiences and pushed the topic of grave robbing to the forefront of modern conversation. The movie franchise grew from there, expanding into products such as grave robbing themed escape games, video games, and so on.