Strippers at Chinese funerals (“a cultural thing”?)

If you’re a Chinese villager, this article explains, your worth is measured by the number of people that attend your funeral. The more mourners, the greater the honor. So you need to be creative in order to attract the multitudes; what better way than offering a racy funeral striptease show? (And no, I’m not making this up.)

Five people have been detained in China for running striptease send-offs at funerals, state media say. The once-common events are held to boost the number of mourners, as large crowds are seen as a mark of honour.

But the arrests, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, could signal the end of the rural tradition. Local officials have since ordered a halt to “obscene performances” and say funeral plans have to be submitted in advance, Xinhua news agency said.

The arrests, in Donghai county, followed striptease acts at a farmer’s funeral, the agency said. Two hundred people were said to have attended the event, which was held on 16 August. The Beijing News said the event was later revealed by a Chinese TV station. The leaders of five striptease troupes were held, it said, including two involved in the farmer’s funeral.

“Striptease used to be a common practice at funerals in Donghai’s rural areas to allure viewers,” Xinhua agency said. “Local villagers believe that the more people who attend the funeral, the more the dead person is honoured.”

I guess it’s up to the farmers to decide how they want to spend their money, and if they want to hire funeral strippers, why not?

I am, in all seriousness, very curious about how far back this practice dates. Looking at the Xinhua quote, one might be led to believe it’s an old and time-honored tradition. Is it? Or is it a more recent phenomenon, inspired by Western decadence? (I ask because I got into a discussion about it with a friend this morning, who insisted this is not a Chinese “cultural thing,” but rather a result of unhealthy Western influence. I honestly have no idea, but would love to learn.)

The Discussion: 19 Comments

Will Yang Rui hire Philip Cunningham to do a striptease at his funeral?

August 23, 2006 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

Did you have to force us to visualize that? Please, I just ate lunch.

August 23, 2006 @ 11:41 pm | Comment

This article makes it even clearer that China needs capitalism!

In Ancient Roman times the same was true, “your worth is measured by the number of people that attend your funeral. The more mourners, the greater the honor.” This gave birth to professional mourners and wailers.

Yes, China needs capitalism.

Haha

August 23, 2006 @ 11:52 pm | Comment

Well not to get too serious about this, but a thought occurred to me: Jesus had only a handful of mourners at his funeral.

August 24, 2006 @ 12:03 am | Comment

It’s a tradition recently in Taiwan too. I’ve seen strippers at several weddings around neighborhoods I have lived in. In the late 90s we were fortunate enough to be the second or third car behind a funeral procession in which there was a stripper in the last van.

I doubt it is western decadence — strippers are not at all common at western weddings and funerals. This is either home grown, or imported from the compadres across the Strait.

Michael

August 24, 2006 @ 1:03 am | Comment

I doubt it is western decadence — strippers are not at all common at western weddings and funerals.

Yeah, that’s what I told my friend, Michael. He insisted the very notion of strippers was a Western one, but I am highly skeptical.

August 24, 2006 @ 1:12 am | Comment

“He insisted the very notion of strippers was a Western one, but I am highly skeptical.”

Regardless of whether or not that is true, strippers don’t make appearances at funerals. The furthest your friend is going to get with that is “western strippers with Chinese characteristics.”

August 24, 2006 @ 7:18 am | Comment

…? Well, I can’t say if it is a rural tradition in that particular village, but I can tell you right now it certainly ain’t a tradition in rural Hubei. Unless of all the picayune folk anecdotes my dad used to regale me with when I was young, he’d just happened to conveniently leave out this one. ๐Ÿ™‚

August 24, 2006 @ 8:46 am | Comment

I think I’m going to call him tonight and ask.

Damn, now I really wish I’d spent more time in podunk Songzi during my summer vacations.

August 24, 2006 @ 8:52 am | Comment

It’s a play on words, yellow(huang2) and prosperity(wang4), the former referring to questionable content.

August 24, 2006 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

Nah, I doubt it. That would be a pretty weakass pun.

August 24, 2006 @ 2:10 pm | Comment

Remember it’s in the Wu dialect, which lost the distinction between hw- and w-.

Well anyway I wouldn’t know for sure. I read it in the newspaper last night.

August 24, 2006 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

Ah, that makes somewhat more sense.

Thanks for that tidbit of information.

August 24, 2006 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

Richard, I think the opening paragraphs of this collection of academic commentary on Taiwan funeral strippers should settle the debate with your friend…

from thos page

My research is on the social and religious context of the marionette theatre in Quanzhou, southern Fujian, and the Gaoxiong and Tainan area. As part of my research I collect data on all forms of performing arts in both Taiwan and Fujian. Over the past ten years I have spent four years in Fujian and two years in Taiwan. In Taiwan I have collected some material on strippers and the organization of related entertainment. I interviewed the comic Tuo Xian who was one of the first organizers of strip shows in Taiwan. The performance of striptease at funerals, but also at real estate promotions and other occasion, started some 20 years ago and peaked during the mid-80s I also interviewed strippers and show dancers, who performed during rituals, as well as during secular performances. Some had performed at the Shizi Lin the biggest strip joint in Taipei that is still operating.

The performance of striptease during ritual is probably the result of the changes in the Taiwan entertainment market over the past decades. In my study of traditional Chinese theatre in both Fujian and Taiwan it became clear that overt and crude language with an explicit sexual content were an important part of the performing arts. In funeral performances of the Mulian we also find improvised dialogues on the virility of the deceased in great detail indeed. The performance of striptease may therefore have a function that surpasses that of pure entertainment. The virility of the male and the related production of offspring may be expressed and visualized in explicit language or an erotic dance. There is a strong and potent erotic substratum in numerous Chinese rituals, that are indeed meant to incite sexual activity and the ensuing birth of offspring. I have found at several occasions that soft and hard porn videos are shown at different rituals in mainland China.

Michael

August 24, 2006 @ 10:06 pm | Comment

Great find, Michael, thanks.

August 25, 2006 @ 12:21 am | Comment

I also find it funny that someone could claim this is a decadent Western thing. According to my understanding, China was always much more open to sex than the West until… some point in time that I can’t figure out. I must say that I doubt the 50s were a good time for the libido. Heard some kinda kinky stories about the 60’s, when everyone was sent down to the countryside. Personally, I think it’s good to see people loosening up. I’ll have to put “strippers at funeral” into a living will.

August 25, 2006 @ 2:02 am | Comment

I also find it funny that someone could claim this is a decadent Western thing. According to my understanding, China was always much more open to sex than the West until… some point in time that I can’t figure out. I must say that I doubt the 50s were a good time for the libido. Heard some kinda kinky stories about the 60’s, when everyone was sent down to the countryside. Personally, I think it’s good to see people loosening up. I’ll have to put “strippers at funeral” into a living will.

August 25, 2006 @ 2:03 am | Comment

Kevin, I think that time was about 1890 – 1910. I hope someone with a better grasp of Chinese history than me can comment, but I believe at that time, when so many Chinese intellectuals were looking to the west and Japan for new notions of modernity, that China was heavily influenced by prevailing Western thinking.

Unfortunately, at that time prevailing western thinking was straight-jacketed by late Victorian mores on topics like sex and homosexuality.

When the door started closing on western influence soon after that, China was stuck with these values for a while. Now it is in many ways returning to more traditional thinking on these topics.

That’s how I understand it, I’m happily corrected by someone better informed. ๐Ÿ™‚

August 27, 2006 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

Oh, we didn’t need the Victorians to feel bad about sex. We had the Neo-Confucianists!Believe me, China has had a long and indigenous tradition of prudery.

Folk Daoists were pretty chill, though. (Read up on Daoist sexual practices…it wasn’t all Laozi and metaphysics! ;-))

August 27, 2006 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.