TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – After an announcement from the Chinese Ministry of Culture in January, Chinese officials have begun to crack down on the folk tradition of “funeral strippers.”
While the campaign has been touted as an effort to enforce better moral character among the Chinese public, observers suggest it may also be an attempt to curb cultural influence emanating from Taiwan, where the tradition originated.
According to reports, the Chinese government is asking people who observe the “funeral strippers” in rural or suburban areas to report them to the authorities. They have even reportedly established a hotline, and are offering rewards to informants.
The practice of hiring scantily clad females, or modern strippers, to dance for crowds at funerals reportedly developed in Taiwan during the 60s and 70s and caught widespread attention in the 1980s, however the cultural practice of dancing to appease spirits during funerary rituals is an ancient tradition.
The modern incarnation of the rite, often with girls using stripper poles mounted to the top of trucks blaring club music in broad daylight, is a curious aspect of modern folk religion as it has developed in Taiwan.
(Image from Flickr user Joseph Roman)
An expert quoted in the ABC report says that the strippers represent a kind of “fertility worship,” and the practice is also believed to accord to the idea that no public event is noteworthy or positively memorable unless there are lots of people enjoying themselves.
The strippers thus have a dual-role; they are there to excite a crowd and draw public interest, which accords the deceased a level of respectable notoriety. However, they are also symbols of spiritual fertility, meant as a celebration of the life cycle, and a gesture to please nearby spirits or gods, thus helping to ensure the deceased is received cordially into the spirit realm.
After a rise of such funeral rites in rural Chinese villages over the last decade, the Chinese government has declared the practice to be “uncivilized,” and is now stepping up measures to end the practice reports ABC.
Anthropologist Marc L. Moskowitz, quoted in the report, notes that "Maybe in China, there is a recognition that this is coming from Taiwan, so it's seen as something that wasn't central to Chinese thought in tradition."
While Taiwan has taken measures to restrict full nudity in public during processions, the country remains very tolerant of the practice generally, even though some members of the public may find it distasteful.
However, under China’s new directive to enforce communist party approved moral guidelines across society, the religious practice of “funeral strippers” is said to be “obscene and vulgar” and is not to be tolerated, reports the BBC.
(Image from Flickr user Jornal Brasil em Folhas)
To learn more about the cultural practice, check out the documentary from Professor Moscowitz "Dancing for the Dead: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan."