You are at a funeral. Everyone is in mourning. No one is smiling and the whole mood is somber. Quiet whispers and the occasional sob is all you hear. Condolences are being offered and recieved with quiet dignity. The whole atmosphere is dark and dismal.
And then a garishly lit truck pulls up and the Taiwanese version of booty-shakin music commences blasting. Sound about right?
Well it would, if you lived in rural Taiwan. Funerals are gloomy things, but the happy countryside folk of Taiwan have found a way to bring sexy back, even to these abysmal events. While it may seem scandalous, strange or downright ridiculous to some, having dancers of the exotic kind are an accepted way of saying goodbye to a loved one in rural Taiwan. Here’s the rundown.
A big truck (called an electric flower truck – 電子花車) shows up and in transformer-like fashion, converts to a stage:
All complete with flashing lights and massive speakers. The back view:
Once set up and good to go, a few words are said, and the “main event” begins:
Funeral stripping has been present in Taiwan for a long time. Media coverage began in the late 80’s when Taiwan’s economy was booming and freedom of the press was becoming a reality.
It’s not just a show for the dead man’s dirty old friends, but for everyone attending the funeral, kids included. Makes me squirm slightly, but hey – I shouldn’t be viewing this through a cultural lens. Who am I so say that the “over 18 only” rule applies?
In days passed, the girls would get fully nude, but government crackdowns stopped that, and now they prance around in their small clothes. Sometimes the girls will get off stage and come down to offer special attention (read lap dance) to those who seem extremely sorrowful. So put on your game face.
These days, it’s something that generally happens only in rural areas. As globalization spreads, urban populations are growing more concerned with the international image of Taiwan, while the rural populations still hang on to folk traditions and old customs. City folk dismiss the practice as immoral and are against it because of the negative impact it may have on Taiwan’s international status.
Really? What about all the “hostess” KTV’s in the cities? I guess it’s ok behind closed doors eh? Riiiight…
The actual reason for these performances are difficult to pinpoint. Marc L. Moskowitz did a documentary on this phenomenon in 2011 and here are some of his findings:
- Appeasing the dead spirits and ghosts. Taiwanese culture is heavy on these concepts, so what better way to appease the dead than with a writhing nubile girl?
- The deceased enjoyed this while alive, so what better way to say good bye?
- In order to show the high status of the deceased’s family. If the funeral is enjoyed by all, it will be seen a “highly successful” which means face-gain. The holy grail of Taiwan social customs.
Another reason presented by Nuri Vittachi (a journalist based in Hong Kong) is gangster involvement. 25 years ago gangsters got into the funeral business, and this was a great way to meld their girly bar/hostess business with their new funeral business.
I’m sure a combination of all these things have contributed, but whatever the reason(s), this is an interesting facet of Taiwan. In a place that’s so shy about sex, especially in the rural areas, it’s strange to see sexuality on open display in a traditional ritual. Yet another example of the dichotomy within Taiwanese culture.