China vows to crack down on rural custom of hiring strippers for funerals

By Hu Yuwei Published: 2018/2/20 9:18:09

Scantily clad women in sexy lingerie and revealing clothes showing off their bodies in front 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" are now a modern part of funerals in some rural areas of China. 

The crowd is pushed to climax, roaring with laughter, whistling, applauding and cursing. As the performers saunter into the audience to giggle their breasts and rub men's crotches, a reminder of "no photographs allowed" can occasionally be heard. 

China's Ministry of Culture announced in January it will launch a new campaign targeting Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hebei provinces for their obscene and vulgar performances at weddings, funerals and temple fairs, in order to welcome Spring Festival and the upcoming two sessions in March. A special "hotline" for the public to report any "funeral misdeeds" in exchange for a monetary reward was provided as well. 

It has been a long tradition for Chinese rural residents to hire local opera performers for funerals to allure mourners and show respect to the deceased. By hiring performers, people can ensure a higher turnout at the deceased's funeral as a way of honoring the dead and showing "filial piety." 

In recent decades, Chinese rural households are more inclined to show off their disposable incomes by paying out several times their annual income for actors, singers, comedians, and - most recently, strippers - to comfort the bereaved and entertain the mourners. 

A journalist from the China Society Journal investigated erotic funerals in eastern Anhui Province in 2006, finding that some clever merchants had started to recruit young, sexy girls as funeral entertainment. Opera singers soon lost their market as more and more locals became fascinated with striptease and shibamo (eighteen touches), a traditional Chinese folk song that is flirtatious, bawdy and erotic in nature. 

CCTV news program Jiaodian Fangtan (Focus) in that year also exposed the existence of obscene performing groups in Donghai county, Jiangsu Province, which in turn led to the leaders of five striptease troupes involved in a farmer's funeral being detained. 

In 2015, villages of Hebei and Jiangsu provinces made headlines on Chinese social media with viral photos showing strippers at funerals inviting "grieving" men to come on stage and undress them. Seniors and children are seen standing nearby watching attentively. 

Fully corroded 

In 2015, the Ministry of Culture had announced their plan to eliminate such "bizarre and increasingly popular" performances for "corrupting the social atmosphere." 

Authorities inscribe such performances as "uncivilized" and announce crackdowns from time to time to remind residents that public eroticism is illegal in China; anyone who hires a stripper to entice people for a turnout will be "severely punished." 

On social media, many critics say the current countryside is fully corroded and was invaded by low culture and vulgar elements. 

But the villagers themselves do not seem guilt-ridden about the erotic events. According to one netizen, it all comes down to one thing: "as long as everyone's happy, its all good!" 

The Xinhua News Agency commented: "Having erotic performances of this nature at funerals highlights the trappings of modern life in China, whereby vanity and snobbery prevail over traditions." 

Historical origins

As early as the Qing Dynasty, China has had a tradition of entertaining mourners at funerals. Especially among certain ethnic minorities, such as the Tujia people, there is a tradition of "being happy at the funeral but sad at the wedding." 

But the striptease was only added to the funeral entertainment menu in the 1990s. Experts partly attribute such a phenomenon 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, professor of Fujian Normal University Sociology and History Department, told the Global Times. 

"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," media professor Kuang Haiyan interprets. 

"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," Kuang said. 

Compared with urban areas where residents can fulfill both their physiological and spiritual needs, rural residents normally have few places to go to express their sexuality due to the relative seclusion and backwardness of the countryside. 

The question of whether China's grass-roots culture can satisfy its targets - peasants with limited level of education - has become a concern for experts. 

"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," professor Wei at Central University of Finance and Economics Culture and Media department, told the Global Times. 

Cultural products needed

It was reported that the Chinese government invested 20 billion yuan for the construction of 600,000 "rural bookstores" across the country, but its efficacy has yet to be determined. The deputy director of the national library, Chen Li, found during his fieldwork some of the books assigned to these rural bookstores were completely disconnected from the real needs of villagers. He listed several titles that appear to be irrelevant to farmers, including Philosophy of Business Banquets and Tertiary Training about Windows XP BIOS

Professor Wei told the Global Times that many rural bookstores serve more like "a recycling bin of unqualified books left without any interest in the market," used by the publishing industry for de-stocking unsold books. 

"Among the rural bookstores I visited, they are either completely closed or have very few books inside that are suitable and readable for villagers. I would say I was disappointed about their utilization," he added. 

While casually accepted by villagers, striptease is assailed by experts as a low culture and toxin for public morality. State media have also attacked the new custom, and a vocal minority are calling on the government to enrich the rural population with more spiritual products.

"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," professor Huang to the Global Times.

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