The sexy sendoffs are popular in rural parts of the country, where a good turnout at a funeral is seen as a sign of good fortune.
In death, as in life, there's more than one way to throw a party. Some mourn the passing of a loved one with church hymns and prayer; others choose to celebrate their death with booze and disco balls. In rural China, some funeral parties are hiring strippers—and the Chinese government is not pleased.
The Chinese Ministry of Culture released a statement (this link, and some others, in Chinese) on Thursday detailing two recent cases of "obscene" funeral activity. The first happened at a funeral in Handan, where six performers were hired to perform a burlesque show. Photos from that funeral have already made the internet rounds, and show a woman dancing on a stripper pole before a crowd of mourners. In the second case, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, three women performed a striptease at the funeral of an old man. In both cases, the responsible parties were fined, but the Ministry plans to work with local police forces to further investigate and punish these "pornographic performances" going forward.
In case it's not readily apparent, funeral stripteases are not traditionally part of the cultural fabric of China. But it's not an entirely new phenomenon either. In 2006, state-sponsored China Central Television ran a primetime special about funerals in rural farming towns that used strippers "to attract larger crowds." These performers sometimes showed up with snakes or invited men to take off their pants to join in on the festivities. After the CCT special aired, the practice was officially banned in China and the government apparently set up a 24-hour hotline for people to report these types of "funeral misdeeds."
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Funeral strippers have long been a feature in rural Taiwan. Anthropologist Marc Moskowitz made a documentary on the subject in 2011, titled Dancing for the Dead: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan. Moskowitz told me, "There is no doubt that the [mainland China] phenomenon is inspired by the Taiwanese practice," which was popularized in the 1980s when people started hiring "Electric Flower Cars." These were basically trucks where women would sing, dance, and occasionally take off their clothes for the sake of funeral entertainment. Moskowitz said he's read accounts of this kind of thing happening in Taiwan as far back as the 1800s, although the practice certainly wasn't common then.
The motivation behind these stunts is that they can liven up the funeral procession—something that's meant to be a celebration of someone's life, rather than a somber event. Moskowitz noted that karaoke is a popular feature in Chinese funerals, a feature he sees as a direct offshoot from the Electric Flower Cars. As the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday morning, big funeral crowds are perceived as a "harbinger of good fortune in the afterlife"—and what better way to draw a big crowd than naked women?
Moskowitz admitted that he found the practice a little weird when he started researching it, but "all in all, I think I've come to like the idea of celebrating someone's life, in whatever form that takes." He added that if anyone wants to pay for one of these services at his funeral, "They should feel free to do so."
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