The Chinese government is clamping down on strippers at funerals – and it’s as bizarre as it sounds

A screengrab from a 2011 documentary by Marc L. Moskowitz describing the popularity of funeral strippers in China.
YouTube/ Marc L. Moskowitz

The Chinese government is instigating a clampdown on the unusual rural custom of hiring strippers to perform at funerals.

Flaunting their bodily assets in skimpy clothing and sexy lingerie, these women would perform for mourners in front of an electronic screen displaying a black-and-white headshot of the deceased with text reading “We offer profound condolences for the death of this man“, says a Global Times report.

During the show, they would turn up the heat by sauntering into the audience to put on a display of suggestive moves that leave the crowd roaring with laughter, whistling, applauding and cursing.

Reminders of “no photography allowed” can occasionally be heard amid the ruckus.

China’s Ministry of Culture finds this outlandish practice more profane than profound however.

It announced in January that a new campaign will be launched to target such performances at weddings, funerals and temple fairs, with focus on Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hebei provinces in light of the upcoming Spring Festival.

A dedicated hotline has also been established for the public to report “funeral misdeeds” in exchange for monetary rewards.

Deep-seated tradition and symbolism

The movement to abolish the lewd custom might be an uphill battle.

The practice of hiring performers to secure a higher turnout at a deceased’s funeral to honour the dead and show “fillial piety” is deep-seated in rural Chinese tradition.

In previous decades, Chinese rural households have resorted to hiring actors, singers and comedians to comfort the bereaved and entertain mourners. Strippers are the most recent additions to the roster.

By spending exorbitant amounts of money – sometimes more than their annual income – on entertainers, they get to show off their disposable income.

The presence of strippers at funerals is viewed as symbolic as well.

Huang Jianxing, professor of Fujian Normal University Sociology and History Department, told the Global Times, “In some local cultures, dancing with erotic elements can be used to convey the deceased’s wishes of being blessed with many children.”

“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,” adds media professor Kuang Haiyan.

“From the perspective of folklore, festivals and rituals such as the Chinese New Year are the critical time for people to lay down their life and embrace the death. That’s the moment for them to release their passion at the funeral.”

Appealing to rural folk

Striptease and other erotic performances tend to be especially appealing to rural residents who typically have few avenues to express sexuality because of the relative seclusion and backwardness of the countryside.

Professor Wei at Central University of Finance and Economics Culture and Media department attributed the inclination of Chinese villagers to hire funeral strippers to economic imbalance and the lack of education, according to the International Business Times.

“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,” said the professor.

The villages seem content with such a degraded culture, nonetheless, as they believe that as long as everyone is happy, all is good.

Not the first time

The Chinese government has had taken action against funeral strippers before.

In 2015, the Ministry of Culture announced a plan to eliminate such “bizarre and increasingly popular” performances for “corrupting the social atmosphere.”

Such performances have been labelled as “uncivilised” by authorities and crackdowns are periodically announced as a stern reminder to residents about the illegality of public eroticism in the country.

Anyone who hired a stripper to entice people for a turnout will be “severely punished”.