Funeral Strippers?

The Western press got a good snicker a few weeks back when it was widely reported that China’s Ministry of Culture warned of a crack down on the practice of hiring strippers to perform at funerals. According to these reports it was becoming more and more popular in the Chinese countryside.

To be honest, I’ve never heard of the practice. And I have yet to find any Chinese colleague who has either.

According to the accounts I’ve read in Western media the explanation for this practice is unclear. One account suggested it was a way to attract more attendees to the funeral. Another suggested it was a reward for migrant workers who had to travel a long way to participate. (One friend of mine punned that, right or wrong, it demonstrated good “thinking out of the box.”)

Pornography of all forms is illegal in China and they’re serious about it. In all of my time here I have never seen any vendor selling a pornographic magazine or DVD, even in the black markets where you can easily buy a fake Rolex or LV bag.

That’s not the case with all regulations, of course, including the rules of the road, where just about anything goes. As one Chinese colleague recently quipped, “I live in the freest country in the world.” And he’s right. As long as you are not threatening the state or social stability the authorities will pretty much leave you alone.

Sexual love and marriage are Jeffersonian soul mates built on the supremacy of individual happiness and obligation.  The Chinese worldview on marriage is all about the family and the harmonious survival of the ancestral line.
Sexual love and marriage are Jeffersonian soul mates built on the supremacy of individual happiness and obligation. The Chinese worldview on marriage is all about the family and the harmonious survival of the ancestral line.

In general, as I have written before, I believe the Chinese are quite conservative when it comes to matters sexual. While I know that attitudes are changing here I would bet that the percentage of young couples who have intercourse before marriage is lower here than just about anywhere on the planet.

Having said that, the attitude towards sex and sexuality is very different here than in the West. In most Western countries, sexual love and marriage are inseparable concepts. You can’t have one without the other, which is why infidelity remains overwhelming frowned upon in the U.S. despite a mass liberalization of sexual norms.

But that is a Jeffersonian view of marriage. It’s all about the individual, both in terms of happiness and individual obligation.

To the modern Westerner, looking sexy and being sexy often go hand in hand.  Not so to the inductive Chinese.  Looking sexy is a self-contained concept.
To the modern Westerner, looking sexy and being sexy often go hand in hand. Not so to the inductive Chinese. Looking sexy is a self-contained concept.

But the Chinese have a Confucian worldview. The individual is subordinate to the family, both immediate and extended. The survival and harmony of the clan trumps everything.

That is not to say that Chinese women welcome, or even accept, infidelity or patterns of aggressive sexual behavior. It is to say, however, that they generally view sexuality through a different lens – through the lens of family stability and well-being.

That’s also not to say that Chinese women are timid or feel in any way that they suffer at the hands of patriarchal cultural norms. If anything, as I’ve noted before, I think that Chinese men are generally afraid of the women, who, in many ways, hold the reins of power in China and are fully aware of the fact. (A culture built around family has to be matriarchal in many ways by definition.)

So even though you can’t buy pornography here, you can go to the auto show, where scantily clad young female models stand next to vehicles on display. (In Shanghai the government recently told carmakers they were going too far and to cover up the models.)

You can't buy pornography here but you can go to the auto show where the models often outdraw the cars.  The government, however, has recently warned models to 'cover up.'
You can’t buy pornography here but you can go to the auto show where the models often outdraw the cars. The government, however, has recently warned models to ‘cover up.’

And there are plenty of provocative billboards and store signs around town, although most feature Western models, perhaps in deference to traditional Chinese conservatism. (It is not because most Chinese prefer Western notions of beauty. Most Chinese men and women, I believe, prefer Chinese norms of beauty.)

This all contributes to yet another example of Chinese duality. There is sexuality here. But it’s not Western sexuality. It just is. Like life on a farm, if you will, but with LV handbags and carefully cared for hair.

So, do they really have strippers at Chinese funerals? I have no idea. I can only say that if they do they don’t think about it in the same way most readers of this post would. To the inductively-minded Chinese, whatever the reason for it, it just is what it is. If you asked an attendee at such an event why the girls were there they would undoubtedly reply, “Because someone invited them,” and look at you like you are just as inexplicable as all of the other foreigners.

The government of President Xi Jinping is most definitely cracking down on openly lewd sexual behavior. I believe he is an extremely moral man. But his is not Judeo-Christian morality; it is Confucian morality. He wants to protect the family and the culture and he believes these behaviors serve to undermine those undeniably precious things.

Chinese morality is harmonious, not absolute. Which is undoubtedly why this story got little coverage here in China. Not because the government prevented it. They, after all, put out the warning. But because there would be no value in it to the Chinese reader. It wouldn’t sell newspapers.

Doesn’t that, in a way, make them more sophisticated on the topic? Duality and irony. Yin and yang. This is China.

There is no pornography in China.  It’s illegal and this set of regulations is enforced because it undermines the harmony of the culture and extended clan.  That doesn’t mean, however, that sexuality itself is banned.
There is no pornography in China. It’s illegal and this set of regulations is enforced because it undermines the harmony of the culture and extended clan. That doesn’t mean, however, that sexuality itself is banned.

Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.