In late January, China’s Minister of Culture began cracking down on strippers–the kind that dance at funerals in rural China. They want to cut down this “bizarre and increasingly popular” funeral customs that they believe are “corrupting the social atmosphere.” This unusual tradition has been a “longstanding practice” for wealthy families who are living in the rural areas across the Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hebei provinces of the Asian country. What is known about this unusual custom and why China is cracking down on funeral strippers?
According the the Global Times, “scantily clad women” in diaphanous garments such as “sexy lingerie or other revealing clothing” strut their stuff on stage, in front of a black and white photo of the deceased, displayed on a big screen television. Around the photo are the emblazoned words “We offer profound condolences for the death of this man.”
The dancers saunter into the funeral “audience,” rubbing their breasts against men’s inmate regions, in an ecstatic ritual experience that is almost a crazy combination of ancient ritual and rowdy strip club. Instead of hymns and quiet prayers, typical of western funerals, here, the audience whistles applauds and laughs at the stage show/funeral.
Originally, the custom was to invite “local opera performers” to entice more people to attend a funeral. The belief has been that the more people who attended the funeral, the bigger the honor to the dead, and that it shows “filial piety.”
Eventually, actors, comedians and other performers were added to increase crowds, and in the 1990s, journalists reported strippers were part of the entertainment at the funerals.
According to Global Times, more well-to-do rural residents are reportedly “inclined” to splash out their “disposable income” for a cornucopia of “entertainers, including actors, singers, comedians and most recently strippers” hired for the funeral, in order to “comfort the bereaved and entertain the mourners.”
The paper also reports that the amount of money spent is typically “several times their annual income.”
Historically, the tradition of some of the ethnic groups such as the Tujia people, who currently hold such unusual funerals, have long celebrated in this way as early as the Qing Dynasty. They believe in “being happy at the funeral but sad at the wedding.”
Media professor Kuang Haiyan “interprets” his belief that the unusual funeral custom is anthropological in origin.
“According to the interpretation of cultural anthropology, the fete is originated from the worship of reproduction. Therefore the erotic performance at the funeral is just a cultural atavism.”
Professor Wei at the Central University of Finance and Economics Culture and Media department has another theory: boredom. There are not a lot of entertainment options for the rural Chinese. He believes this is where the rise of funeral strippers comes from.
“Entertainment facilities provided by the public sector are not fairly adaptive for rural residents. Such deficiency leave farmers’ spiritual life hollow and give rise to porn and striptease.”
Whatever the reason for the “vulgar and obscene” funeral stripper custom, China’s Ministry of Culture is determined to put a stop to this practice. They are even offering some cash to entice the public, in exchange for information regarding “funeral misdeeds.”
Perhaps they will save a bit of that cash to create more wholesome diversions for rural areas?