Strip Shows at Funerals in China’s Countryside Part of a Long-Standing Tradition

It provides a proper send-off to the deceased with big crowds


China has found a novel new way to ‘entertain’ mourners at funerals in the country: by hiring strippers.

Photos from a funeral in a village near Handan, Hebei on March 23 have circulated online showing strippers around a pole at an otherwise very sombre event. It turns out hiring strippers for funerals isn’t a one-off thing, but is happening more commonly as a new “tradition” in China’s rural areas.

As a conservative society, sexuality and nudity are off-limit topics in China, even during polite conversation. The taboo nature of nudity has even made it scandalizing to work as a nude model for artists. However, Chinese culture is not a static entity that can be defined by any one element. As disrespectful as it may appear to have a stripper gyrate her hips on stage in front of a portrait of the recently deceased, this act is actually working to serve other – more positive – elements of Chinese culture.As disrespectful as it may appear to have a stripper gyrate her hips on stage in front of a portrait of the recently deceased, this act is actually working to serve other – more positive – elements of Chinese culture.

Funerals are important events, especially for a younger generation who must fulfill their duties as filial sons and daughters to their deceased forebears. There’s a number of customs associated with helping the dead make their way into the afterlife including the burning of “hell money”, but one of the most important is having grievers mourn the deceased. While tears and wailing is best, a large audience showing up at a funeral is also a good sign. As with everything Chinese, things are just better when many people are involved in the excitement, otherwise known as the Chinese concept of 热闹 (rènao). Just like an empty Chinese restaurant cursed with a window so that everyone knows to avoid it, a Chinese funeral without mourners/audience isn’t just sad, but downright tragic.

And even though China is a crowded place where some people may find there’s too much of this rènao, rural villages are just the opposite. With opportunities increasing in the east and south, villagers are giving up the rural life and moving away, sometimes for essential jobs as doctors and teachers. And if you want to add a crowd with a lively sense of rènao to your rural social function, you’ll likely need to attract not just all your own villagers, but those from other villages. This has become a growing problem, and it’s become clear that swinging from a fireman’s pole without a fireman in sight is the obvious solution.

Previously, when a family elder died in Henan, the family would invite a Henan opera group to perform at the funeral. As times changed, the custom changed into the showing of a film. Now, in the age of information when everything is competing for your attention, the custom is to invite strippers to perform at the funeral. As an added bonus, doing so is also a way for the bereaved family to show off their riches by putting on a lavish show/sad funeral that everyone will be talking about for days afterwards.

But that might not be all. A filial son or daughter would want to ensure their recently passed relative gets a good send-off to the afterlife, so they need to ensure they don’t come back as ghosts to haunt the living. Therefore, having a large crowd of “mourners” at a funeral can ensure that the dead get the proper respect they deserve.

This may sound rather far-fetched to a Western audience whose usual idea of a ghost is either Bruce Willis at the end of a movie or Patrick Swayze throughout most of another, but ghosts are a real concern for some rural Chinese. “Corpse brides” is the practice in which parents of a suddenly deceased unmarried son will provide him with a dead woman to be his bride in the afterlife; this way, his soul will be at rest and not be inspired to come back and haunt the living. As rare as this practice is, it’s common enough to have a cottage industry spring up around it to provide fresh corpses that are stolen from graves, or in one instance, prompted one person to murder women to fulfill a quota.

But to get back to the point at hand, this is how funerals in the Chinese countryside have established a tradition of hiring strippers to perform and attract audiences. News reports have pegged the cost of hiring strippers at RMB 2,ooo to 3,000 for the night and have called such funeral strip shows as a “common occurrence”. Funeral strip shows have happened in January 2011, in Taiwan in 2012 and 2013, another case in 2012, and seen here in this CCTV new report.

Even after the explanation, it still might seem odd. After all, how can you justify doing one thing at the sake of something else? How can the same idea of “the ends justify the means” be so commonplace throughout China at various rural villages? If this kind of conditional rationalization has your head spinning, then think of this, which you might have heard before: “I’m not trying to hurt you; I’m trying to help you.” Without even going into a specific context, it’s clear the statement is hypocritical. And yet, because the person who is saying these words completely believes what they are saying, it can also be true.

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor