Take off your hat but leave the rest of your clothes on, please
By Nury Vittachi
We’d like to ask readers to remove their hats as a sign of respect before reading this column. Thank you. Today we are going to discuss an extremely solemn topic. (Cue church organ music.) We are going to talk about funerals. Or to be more precise, the most popular part of the north-east Asian funeral service, which is, of course, the strip show.
People around the world are often highly amused (I use the word in its journalistic meaning of “horrified”) when they learn that scantily clad dancers are a regular feature of memorial services in Taiwan and parts of mainland China.
Indeed, visitors often express their delight with the sort of words that reader Anusha Nand used when I told her about it. ““Eww, that’s totally sick,” she enthused.
As far as I can tell, this is unique to Asia, yet bafflingly has never been used as part of any tourism campaign. (“Asia: home of the sexy funeral.”)
The tradition started about 20 years ago, when the Taiwanese mafia people who run the sleazy nightclub business took over significant sections of the island’s mortuary business. One day, a bright spark who had probably been reading business self-help books decided to use “horizontal integration” to combine the two sectors and expand their income. From then on, anyone who booked a funeral through their company’s mortician was entitled to an “exotic dancer” from the sister company at a deep discount.
Mourners responded with a decisive “Huh?”
The mafia’s business guy explained: “The presence of exotic dancers will greatly increase attendance at the funeral, you see, and thus show much respect for the dead.”
Well, the first part of the sentence was true. Attendance grew, and the new style sexy funeral became fashion. A survey at the turn of the millennium indicated that at that time, between a quarter and a third of Taiwanese funerals included strippers.
The tradition spread to China, and the funerals of nondescript farmers in Jiangsu were soon attracting crowds of 200 or more mourners, expressing their heartfelt condolences by cheering and hooting respectful phrases such as: “Get ‘em off.” (I know you think I am making this up but I am not.)
About three years ago, Chinese officials discovered this was strictly against the Chinese constitution, which says something like, “We hold it self-evident that all men are equally prohibited from having any form of fun unless they have uniforms, in which case they can do anything they jolly well like.” Officials have been trying to ban the habit since 2005, and sexy burials have now gone underground, so to speak.
However, the tradition continues in Taiwan. Cai Ruigong of that island recently hired a stripper to perform at the funeral of his father, who died at the age of 103. She danced for ten minutes in front of the coffin and was paid US$160. Cai told visitors that he felt it was the right thing to do, as the old man’s favourite hobby, bless the dear old thing, had been visiting strip clubs and drooling from the front rows.
Oh well, at least mourners in Taiwan can be sure that their deceased relatives are deceased. If the dearly departed's heart has not quite given out, it probably will after Little Golden Lotus Ming-Ming has shaken her flowers over him.