China’s Ministry of Culture announced last month that it would launch a new campaign against the custom of hiring scantily clad women to perform during funerals.
The campaign would target the provinces of Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hebei, where the practice is most prominent. The Ministry also provided a special hotline that the public can call to report “funeral misdeeds” in exchange for monetary reward.
Funeral strippers are exactly what the name suggests: women dressed in sexy lingerie or revealing clothes that are hired to dance or sing at funerals in some rural areas of China. In one instance that was reported to the officials, the women performed on stage in front of an electronic screen that displayed a headshot of the deceased and the message “We offer profound condolences for the death of this man.”
Below is a trailer for a documentary on the phenomenon:
Grieving families hire these performers in order to entice more people to pay their respects to the dead. The Chinese government first began to conduct operations against the custom in 2015, but funeral strippers continued to be a part of the ceremony in provinces. The Ministry now pursues a crackdown—in which police can break up funerals—to end the “obscene, pornographic and vulgar performances.”
According to the state-run Global Times, China’s tradition of entertaining mourners started as early as the Qing Dynasty. But the striptease was added only during the 1990s, which is often attributed by experts to fertility worship.
“In some local cultures, dancing with erotic elements can be used to convey the deceased’s wishes of being blessed with many children,” Huang Jianxing, a professor at the Fujian Normal University Sociology and History Department, told Global Times.
“From the perspective of folklore, festivals and rituals such as the Chinese New Year are the critical time for people to lay down their lives and embrace the death. That’s the moment for them to release their passion at the funeral.”
While the Ministry as well as the state media have attacked the custom for being a “low culture” and a “toxin for public morality”, some people believe that it is more important to provide the rural population with better cultural products that could enrich them spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually rather than criticize them for keeping the tradition.
“I don’t take the performances as ‘trash of traditional rural culture.’ It has an inheritance of local civilization. Rather than simply decrying them, it is more important for the authorities to provide the rural people with finer cultural products,” said Professor Huang.