An impoverished area of south China has been hit by a spate of mass suicides by dissatisfied peasant girls yearning to be reincarnated as sophisticated city women.

The China Women's Daily said 51 young women, most of them teenagers, had died in 15 separate recent group suicides in villages in mountainous Jiangxi Province.It said many of the victims dressed in their best clothes before throwing themselves into lakes together, in the belief that they would come back to a better life.

Many had despaired of their poverty and lack of education after visiting Chinese cities, and resented their parents for forbidding them to go to high school or leave their village, the report said.

"We have nothing good to eat, wear or do. At home we are controlled by our parents, and when we marry by our husbands. City girls wear fine clothes and go to cinemas . . . it is the life of an angel," it quoted one girl as saying before her death. "Why are people's lives so different?"

The paper said many of the parents of the suicide victims had disowned the dead girls because of local superstitions.

One group of six girls was buried on wasteland in the belief that they would become ghosts, and the families of another four nailed their corpses to their coffins to prevent their spirits from escaping, it said.

The daily said authorities were baffled by the series of suicides, despite repeated investigations, adding that such cases had been unknown during China's leftist policies before 1980.

Before this decade, Chinese peasants were restricted from entering cities and living standards were relatively equal.