Funeral strippers have existed since as early as the 1960s and 70s. At one point in time, these performers would even bare themselves completely—at least until public nudity laws enacted sometime in the 1980s banned this.
While the most recent incident to make the news was that of the Taiwanese politician whose entourage of 50 pole dancers caused a major traffic jam, it’s not just the Taiwanese who enjoy such rituals. Traditionally, strippers and pole dancers have always performed atop ‘Electric Flower Cars’—essentially moving stages—as part of funeral processions.
In China, particularly in the rural provinces, outdoor funerals sometimes come accompanied by performances. This is done to attract more mourners, since the belief is that the bigger the crowd is, the more the deceased is honoured. One such event reported on by NPR in 2012 details how a performer pulled a mourner on stage and began to undress him, occasionally removing a piece of her own clothing in the process. This took place in China’s Henan province, but similar funeral performances have also popped up in the Hebei and Jiangsu provinces.
Broadly speaking, majority of the Chinese population and many upper and middle class Taiwanese frown upon such practices. Accusations of corrupting public morals and disrupting the order of the cultural market have often been lobbed around. In 2015, China’s Ministry of Culture even vowed to stamp out such practices with the help of the police. After all, some of these exotic performances do end up being conducted graveside, apparently to appease wandering spirits. And on at least one other occasion, a dancer can be seen draping herself over a coffin, to the horror of the dead man’s relatives.
There is, however, an argument that such performances can help to cheer up mourners. A documentary on this, Dancing for The Dead, discusses how those who work in this industry see themselves as talented performers. Much like how professional funeral wailers are hired to lead the mourning at a funeral and create a proper sorrowful mood, funeral strippers help to create a renao (‘hot and noisy’) atmosphere.
These days, it is generally only the wealthy who can afford such exotic performers for funerals. Back in the 1980s when Taiwan’s economy was thriving, this industry basically hit its peak. So perhaps there’s something to be said of turning a blind eye to such unconventional ways of mourning. After all, it’s a cultural spectacle we may soon no longer get to witness.
In any case, it’s still a lot less gratuitous than what’s available on social media these days. And if it cheers people up, why not?