In some parts of rural China and Taiwan, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between a bachelor party and a funeral. That's because at some ceremonies for the dead, it has become accepted practice to invite strippers and female dancers.
On Thursday, China's Ministry of Culture and police officials vowed to put an end to such performances, which they called "obscene," according to the Wall Street Journal.
The spark for the ban seems to be an incident in March involving a stripper who removed her bra at a funeral and ignited a backlash. However, it's far from being a recent trend: As National Geographic documented three years ago, inviting funeral strippers has been a decades-long tradition in Taiwan.
Why are strip-funerals so popular there and in China? The Guardian suggests that the uncommon practice is supposed to "draw more mourners to the ceremony." Mass attendance at funerals is considered a positive sign for the afterlife of the deceased, according to a 2006 news report by China's state-run Central Television. "It's to give them face. ... Otherwise no one would come," one villager reportedly told a TV crew.
In an e-mail to The Washington Post, Marc L. Moskowitz, an anthropology professor at the University of South Carolina and the producer of a documentary on Taiwan's funeral strippers, partially agreed with this explanation. "In Taiwan, all public events need to be 'hot and noisy' to be considered to be a success. A night market or a rock concert would be good examples of 'hot and noisy' in the Americas, I think," he explained.
Recalling interviews he had conducted with Taiwanese participants of strip funerals, Moskowitz told The Post: "A few people I spoke to also talked about the idea that birth and death are part of the same process. In a sense, the funeral is meant to celebrate the life of the person who has passed."
According to Moskowitz, the tradition originated in Taiwan and spread to mainland China in recent years. "Usually the people involved are working-class folks, both in Taiwan as well as in China. In urban areas, there is a greater push to be part of a global culture."
Whereas erotic funeral performances are tolerated by authorities in Taiwan as long as performers are not fully undressed, China has recently taken a harsher stance. Earlier in 2015, a strip funeral performance organizer was detained for 15 days and received a $11,300 fine, according to the Wall Street Journal. Back then, the Chinese government said that such practices corrupted the country's "social atmosphere."
"I think the underlying concern is really linked to global culture," Moskowitz explained, "an awareness that people outside of Taiwan or China might find the practice strange or laughable."
Perceptions over the practice seem to have gradually changed in recent years, according to Moskowitz. "A few years ago, I showed my documentary on funeral strippers in Beijing, and the audience seemed much more shocked by all the public displays of religious belief and the crowds of religious followers than they were by the public display of semi-nudity," he said.