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China's Latest Target: Funeral Strippers

A screenshot of a striptease act at a funeral in February in China's Hebei province.
A screenshot of a striptease act at a funeral in February in China's Hebei province.

Looking for a way to give a departed loved one a send-off everyone will remember?

How about hiring strippers to perform at the funeral?

In some parts of rural China, this is not considered absurd, but a good idea.

In February, police busted groups performing striptease acts at funerals in North China's Hebei province and in East China's Jiangsu province. A man named Li, who runs the otherwise benign sounding Red Rose Singing and Dance Troupe, in the city of Handan, Hebei, was detained for 15 days and fined more than $11,000, according to China's government. Photos of the show, predictably, ended up online.

Three strippers who performed in Shuyang County in Jiangsu were detained, while those behind the show were charged with organizing obscene performances.

This week, China's Ministry of Culture told people to stop hiring strippers and vowed to work with police to stamp out the practice.

"This type of illegal operation disrupts order of the cultural market in the countryside and corrupts social morals and manners," the ministry said in a statement.

Why do people hire strippers to perform at funerals?

Typically, rural families do it to drum up crowds. A 2006 story by the state-run New China News Service said villagers in parts of Jiangsu believed that "the more people who attend the funeral, the more the dead person is honored." For other families, the displays are a way to show off wealth and filial piety for the deceased.

The practice isn't isolated to rural China — the island of Taiwan also has funeral strippers who perform on the tops of trucks to make for a faster getaway. Here is a National Geographic video:

The vast majority of Chinese think stripping is utterly inappropriate for a funeral, but some in the countryside really enjoy it.

Take the outdoor funeral for an 86-year-old man surnamed Huang in central China's Henan province in December 2012. A woman in a short, white skirt and halter top pulls a mourner on stage and begins to undress him, while periodically peeling off a piece of her own clothing.

A digital ticker tape in Mandarin tries to remind mourners how sad they are about the dearly departed as a sexually suggestive song pounds in the background. The crowd, which includes children in heavy winter coats, seems more focused on which piece of clothing the exotic dancer plans to discard next.

Funeral strippers don't come cheap. One funeral operator in Henan said troupes can charge nearly $1,000 a show.

The state-run Global Times newspaper decried funeral stripping in an article earlier this week.

"Having exotic performances of this nature at funerals highlights the trappings of modern life in China," the newspaper said, "whereby vanity and snobbery prevail over traditions."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.