China’s Funeral Strippers: An Undying Tradition?
The funeral of Taiwanese politician Tung Hsiang attracted large crowds on January 3rd in Chiayi County during a lively parade that included loud pop music and 50 women in underwear pole dancing on top of moving black cars.
Media outlet Pear Video (梨视频, Li Shipin) released footage of the funeral on Chinese social media (see video below).
According to reports, the son of Tung Hsiang, the Chiayi County Council Speaker, stated the festive parade was because his father “enjoyed a buzz”, and that he hoped the ceremony would give his father “a happy departure.”
DANCING FOR THE DEAD
“Performers sing, dance, bump, and grind as they accompany the dead during the last rites.”
The 50 female dancers featured in the Tung Hsiang’s funeral are part of a thriving Taiwanese ‘EFC industry’. EFC stands for ‘Electric Flower Cars’ or ‘Electric Festooned Cars’ (电子花车), “mobile stages that carry performers who sing, dance, bump, and grind as they accompany the dead during the last rites and in procession to the graveyard” (Seaman 2012).
The phenomenon of dancers or strippers at Chinese funerals has received international media and scholarly attention since the early 1990s.
Besides the media attention for ‘funeral strippers’, there have also been films and songs about them. Director Marc L. Moskowitz made a documentary about this topic in 2011 titled Dancing for the Dead: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan (see trailer below). The American ‘Funk the News’ even made a feature song about strippers at Chinese funerals.
The practice of dramatic performances and entertainment at funerals, including erotic acts, is especially common in Taiwan. According to a 1990 passage in Asian Recorder, “erotic funerals” are seen as status symbols and accounted for about one third of the 2000 burial rites in Taiwan each week (23198).
Having erotic dancers at funerals in mainland China is less common than it is in Taiwan. In 2015, Sina News reported of incidents where rural families would hire strippers to perform at funerals – something that many people on Weibo found shocking at the time. Most people had never even heard of such a practice, although it was said to occur in provinces like Hebei and Jiangsu.
But a CCTV report from as early as 2006 already revealed the existence of dozens of performing groups in mainland China who would dance at about 20 funerals per month for ±322$ per show (Chen & Chin 2015).
In 2015, one saucy wedding in countryside Hebei made headlines in China, with photos of a ‘funeral stripper’ widely circulating on Chinese social media (see images).
Although the practice of funeral striptease might not be commonplace on the mainland, China’s Ministry of Culture nevertheless planned to eliminate such performances in 2015, stating they were “corrupting the social atmosphere.”
THE MORE THE MERRIER
“Be happy at a funeral and sad at a wedding.”
The practice of inviting strippers or erotic dancers to perform at funerals in China allegedly started during the late 1970s or early 1980s in Taiwan, when local mafia entered the funeral business (a money-making ‘goldmine’), and then offered strippers from their club as mourning troupes to kill two birds with one stone (Chen 2011, 105; DailyMail; Netease).
According to a recent report by Netease, one of the first known cases of funeral erotic entertainment took place in the south of Taiwan in 1985 in the village of Xiluo. A filial son honored his late father’s wishes by inviting girls in bikini to dance in the funeral hall. The scene attracted many people from all over the village, turning the funeral into a ‘success’.
But the origins of this practice can also be found deeper in Chinese traditions, where a funeral generally is quite a big happening; the more guests attend, the better, as this is seen as a harbinger of good for the deceased.
For some Chinese ethnic minorities, such as the Tujia people, it is an old tradition to “be happy at a funeral and sad at a wedding”: it is conventional to have drumbeats, dancing and singing at these funerals (Xu & Wang 2007).
Especially in rural areas, people are known to spend a lot of money on funeral ceremonies, including musical and comical performances to please the spirits and comfort the family members of the deceased. By hiring dancers or strippers, people can attract large crowds to the deceased’s funeral – not only is this a sign of good luck and a way to honor the dead, it is also a status symbol.
A UNIQUE PART OF TAIWANESE CULTURE
“Striptease performances are also commonplace at weddings and even at religious festivities.”
Erotic dancing in Taiwan goes beyond funerals. According to fieldwork research by Chiung-Chi Chen (2011), these kinds of striptease performances are also commonplace at weddings and even at religious festivities. More than half of the temple festivals featured in Chen’s research (2002-2003) included scantily clad female dancers (104) instead of traditional opera troupes. Many people even refer to it as a “unique” part of “Taiwanese culture.”
A lively and noisy festivity not just “gives face” to families during a funeral, it is also a status symbol for temple practitioners who attract large crowds to their festival. When researcher Chen asked people why they invited ‘EFC girls’ to their ceremony, a common answer would be: “Because deities enjoy it” (2011, 211).
Pole dancing, as featured in the recent video on Weibo, became more popular and ubiquitous in the ‘EFC industry’ after 2000 (Chen 2011, 107).
On Weibo, there are many different viewpoints on these ‘funeral strippers’. Some think it is a ‘trashy’ Taiwanese tradition, while others acknowledge the same practices also take place in China’s countryside areas. According to one netizen, it all just comes down to one thing: “As long as everyone’s happy, it’s all good!”
Chen, Chiung-Chi. 2011. “Spectacle and Vulgarity: Stripper Dance at Temple Festivals in Contemporary Taiwan.” The Drama Review 55 (1): 104-119.
Chen, Te-Ping and Josh Chin. 2015. “China Says Please Stop Hiring Funeral Strippers.” The Wall Street Journal (Apr 23) http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/04/23/chinese-government-says-please-stop-hiring-funeral-strippers/ [4.1.17].
Seaman, Gary. 2012. “Dancing for the Dead: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan by Marc L. Moskowitz, dir.” American Anthropologist (114/4): 694-695.
Thomas, K.K. 1990. [Title?] Asian Recorder (June 11-17): 23198.
Xu, Ying and Baoqin Wang. 2007. “Tujia: Living High in the Mountains,” in Ethnic Minorities of China, 109-115. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press.
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