A funeral is a sombre occasion when people grieve and mourn and pray for the peace of the departed soul. Well, all that may be a cultural construct. In certain cultures, death, despite the loss that it is, could be an occasion to celebrate too. And the celebration could even involve boisterous erotic dances. Holding shows by strippers at funerals is common in several parts of China and Taiwan.
However, the Chinese government finds it morally repulsive and has begun a crackdown on such funeral processions. These are common only in some interior rural areas so the government has established hotlines to report such funerals.
Last year in Taiwan, the funeral of a politician, Tung Hsiang, the Chiayi County Council Speaker, included a parade of 50 scantily clad women pole-dancing on top of black cars. His son hoped the ceremony would give his father “a happy departure”.
The most common reason behind the bizarre practice is the belief that more people attending a funeral is good for the departed. Pressing strippers into service is a surefire way to achieve that. A large funeral is also seen as a mark of honour for the departed.
However, the cultural notion that death could be an occasion to celebrate is the main underlying reason. The Tuija tribe in China has a saying, “Be happy at a funeral and sad at a wedding”. Death as a happy occasion is part of many cultures that believe in afterlife and the idea that one could do something in this life to enhance one’s afterlife.
Death is not the end of it all; one departs to another world. Dancing with erotic elements can be used to convey the deceased’s wishes of being blessed with many children in the next life. Celebration of fertility is another reason due to which many rites, rituals and occasions involve sexual symbols or behaviour in many eastern cultures.
“The bizarrely upbeat atmosphere actually makes sense. Although inappropriate and offensive in the eyes of many foreigners, having pop music and funny talk shows does, to some extent, probably neutralize the pain of losing a loved one. By bidding a dead relative farewell with a lively, cheerful party, rural Chinese believe that the deceased will feel less lonely and sad in the afterlife. Personally, I’m fine with such customs. Nonetheless, some modern performances are so vulgar and inappropriate that I cannot accept them at all. When I was about five years old, I encountered a funeral striptease performance near my grandma’s home. On the stage near a roadside mourning hall, a scantily dressed woman was slowly twisting her waist under a red light,” wrote a columnist in Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times.
It is apparent from his account that strippers are not a modern add-on to the funeral celebrations. Maybe they are a modern version of the old ways of celebrating fertility and reproduction.