Date: Sun, 19 Nov 1995 16:46:57 -0500
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <>
Subject: H-ASIA: Taiwan Funerals & Strippers
Date: November 19, 1995

Taiwan Funeral Strippers

Combined dialogues from H-Asia and other lists in 1995

Subj:h-asia: Taiwan Funeral Strippers From: Robin Ruizendaal (

My research is on the social and religious context of the marionette theatre in Quanzhou, southern Fujian, and the Gaoxiong and Tainan area. As part of my research I collect data on all forms of performing arts in both Taiwan and Fujian. Over the past ten years I have spent four years in Fujian and two years in Taiwan. In Taiwan I have collected some material on strippers and the organization of related entertainment. I interviewed the comic Tuo Xian who was one of the first organizers of strip shows in Taiwan. The performance of striptease at funerals, but also at real estate promotions and other occasion, started some 20 years ago and peaked during the mid-80s I also interviewed strippers and show dancers, who performed during rituals, as well as during secular performances. Some had performed at the Shizi Lin the biggest strip joint in Taipei that is still operating.

The performance of striptease during ritual is probably the result of the changes in the Taiwan entertainment market over the past decades. In my study of traditional Chinese theatre in both Fujian and Taiwan it became clear that overt and crude language with an explicit sexual content were an important part of the performing arts. In funeral performances of the Mulian we also find improvised dialogues on the virility of the deceased in great detail indeed. The performance of striptease may therefore have a function that surpasses that of pure entertainment. The virility of the male and the related production of offspring may be expressed and visualized in explicit language or an erotic dance. There is a strong and potent erotic substratum in numerous Chinese rituals, that are indeed meant to incite sexual activity and the ensuing birth of offspring. I have found at several occasions that soft and hard porn videos are shown at different rituals in mainland China.


Subj:Strippers at funerals
From: (malcolm mclean)

I have been fascinated by reports of the incorporation of strippers, porno videos, etc, in East Asian funeral rituals on the list. I have been equally intrigued by the paucity of any explanation of this phenomenon.

May I suggest a possible explanation. Writing about guardian figures on the walls of temples in Bali, Ramseyer* remarks, "Wall reliefs showing coitus in all possible forms or disproportionately large genitals do as much as the guardian statues to protect the temple from harmful influences; they fight evil with representations of the obscene." Extrapolating from this, I would hypothesise that obscenity at funerals is a ritual device to scare away evil spirits, whose presence at the time of death is particularly unwelcome.

* Urs Ramseyer, The Art & Culture of Bali (Oxford, University Press, 1977) p 134, plates 170,171.
Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies
University of Otago
P.O. Box 56
Dunedin, New Zealand
ph: (03)479.8793
FAX (03)479.8794

Date: Sat, 11 Nov 1995 20:49:24 -0500
Subj:Taiwanese funerals
From: Helen Armstrong <>

For those interested in the strippers at Taiwanese funerals issue, this week's Far East Economic Review reports (p.42) that "a 73 year old Central Taiwan man wrote in his last will and testament that a stripper should perform at his funeral. ... His family said he got hooked on porno after getting cable television two years ago. His family wanted to respect his wishes but feared a stripper would be not quite the thing at a funeral service. So they decided to invite a raunchy dancer to the mortuary centre where the body was stored, and then take papa (sans stripper) to the funeral".

Obviously a modern phenomenon...

Helen Armstrong Perlo

Subject: H-ASIA: Weddings in Taiwan
Date: October 30, 1995

tgrunfeld recently posted a message describing the appearance of strippers at a recent wedding in Taiwan.

This topic--the use of strippers at Taiwanese funerals and weddings-- was the topic of a recent thread on another bulletin board, eastasia-research on Mailbase.

Several correspondents contributed their firsthand observations of seeing strippers at funerals. There was some theorizing about why Taiwanese funerals display the naked body in this way, but the definitive analysis has not yet been given.

I have a copy of the entire discussion if anyone is interested.

G Victor Hori
Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University

Date: Tue, 31 Oct 1995 19:02:38 EST
Subject: Re: thread on Taiwan strippers


I would be interested in receiving a copy of the thread (believe it or not, my motives are serious).

Thanks for your trouble.

Haines Brown
Hartford Web Publishing

WED JUL 26, 1995 17.32.54

Since this list seems to be in the summer doldrums, I thought I would make a provocative enquiry.

For the last few years, I have been hearing about a new custom in funerals in Taiwan. Apparently, so the story I have heard goes, a funeral was conducted in which part of the actitivies including bringing in strippers to perform exotic dance. This has started a fashion to the point that now about a third of the funerals conducted in Taiwan have strip performances. Last summer, a couple told me of attending a wedding in Taiwan in whcih strippers were part of the entertainment.

My field is Japan (which is geographically not so distant from Taiwan but at times can seem very far away) All my "research" so far is hearsay While manning the admissions desk for our faculty a few weeks ago, a student from Taiwan came up and I took the opportunity to ask about this new custom. He described a recent funeral in which a truck pulled up to the funeral site. The back of the truck opened up to become a stage on which the exotic dancers performed. When I asked what was the motive behind sponsoring exotic dancers, my young informant suggested that it was a way the children could honour the deceased parent. Filial piety!!

Has anyone done any descriptive research on this interesting new custom? Entertainments as part of a funeral is not new. But the use of exotic dancers is (at least, so I think). Any good analytic guesses about what is going on here?

Incidentally, this is all part of a larger interest of mine in rituals concernig death and dying in Asia. So far, I have been sticking to Japan where we have "sudden death" temples, Buddhist ceremonies for the aborted child, Supreme Court decisions supporting a doctor who refused to tell his patient he had cancer, and other interesting cases. I am sure there is lots of good material to work on in other parts of Asia.

G Victor Hori
McGill University

WED JUL 26, 1995 17.33.52

Dear Victor,

Frank in Korea is writing on abortion, death rituals and other family entertainments. I will keep you apprised of anything exotic. So far i have just experienced grief, boredom and miracles.

About Christians and funding, I have yet to connect with the appropriate people but I am sure it is out there.

Frank Tedesco

WED JUL 26, 1995 17.34.09

G Victor Hori asks: [...]

During my stay in Taiwan 1992/93, I did a feature on this phenomenon for the Voice of Free China, so this as a disclaimer that my sources are not very scholarly but rather based on gossip and other media's reports, the usual self-perpetuating of urban myths as done by every self-respecting journalist...

The little I recall includes:

I'm pretty sure that the English language dailys in Taiwan are running this story every year or so, basically repeating the facts (or not) as outlined above. I rather doubt it happens as frequently as the papers want you to believe. It seemed to me that everybody knows about it, but hardly anyone has actually been present at one such funeral. Having never been invited to a funeral, I can't possibly have personal experiences, but I've been invited to several weddings, Buddhist, Western style, traditional, etc., and it was surprisingly at the one traditional wedding I attended (yes, country-side), where exotic dancers were performing. Mind you, they didn't bare everything, but those four-year olds running around were puzzled enough why that Auntie on the stage feels so awfuly hot. Auntie only kept on her G-string (aka dental floss), though if you had expected a lot of shouting and leering you'd be disappointed. The whole routine was completely in the background, rather like the chamber orchestras at medieval court orgies in Hollywood B-movies.

As for any good analytic guess, em, hey, this is the summer doldrums!



Oliver Kramer, Department of East Asian Studies
priv.: University of Edinburgh
email: OR
phone: +44-(0)131-667 2787 homepage:

WED JUL 26, 1995 17.34.21

I haven't heard of any research on erotic entertainment at Taiwanese funerals, but the phenomenon isn't completely new. When I studied in Taiwan in 1988, I heard about this custom several times, though I never saw it performed myself. I did, however, see trucks carrying seductively dressed young women in funeral corteges. According to what I heard then, this was not a new custom, but usually restricted to the countryside. It could well be that more assertive Taiwanese now dare defy the prudish (mainland) authorities, but who knows, until more substantive research is done, all we have is hearsay.

We should be careful when discussing these matters and refrain from condemning this kind of custom off hand (I thought I heard a note of disapproval in the phrase "Filial piety!!"), whatever our personal preferences might be. Since the deceased father probably enjoyed paid female company in his lifetime, it would indeed be only natural and proper to let him enjoy it in the afterlife as well, and not put him on an ascetic diet of mere food and drink. Since this custom is a reflection of more general attitudes towards women and gender relations, if we want to frown, it is these that should be frowned upon, not the funeral customs. Let us also not forget that many other cultures would condemn the wanton mingling on the dance floor of unmarried youths at western weddings.

Hakan Friberg

Hakan Friberg, Center for Pacific Asia Studies Stockholm University, S-10691 Stockholm, Sweden

WED JUL 26, 1995 17.34.45

Victor Hori's information on strippers performing at religious functions in Taiwan is correct. I myself witnessed a temple celebration in honor of the god's birthday which featured dancers who performed absolutely buck-naked right on the street, and the audience included not only men but whole families with young children, not to mention everyone who lived in the neighborhood.

Analytical guesses? My own assumption, pending the appearance of more rigorous field research (any volunteers?) is that they do this for the same reason that they perform Taiwan and Beijing opera at temples: they assume that the gods are not so different from them, and whatever entertains them must also entertain the gods. In the case of funerals, I suppose if the deceased frequented brothels and strip shows in life, there is no reason to suppose they would not continue to enjoy them after death. Alternatively, perhaps it is a way of distracting and/or bribing the officials of Hell.

What it points to is a way of envisioning the relations between humans and deities, or the living and the dead, that is vastly different from Western religious habits.

By the way, the strippers were from local neighborhood brothels, and they had really scary-looking bodyguards with them to escort them back to work when they were through. I imagine that gangs must be involved in it somehow.

Chuck Jones
University of Virginia

WED JUL 26, 1995 17.34.50

The woman in the picture of the Free China Review may well be a stripper. At the performance at the local temple that I attended, the strippers sang three numbers, taking off progressively more clothing as they sang until they were down to a bikini for the last number. The women who took everything off did not sing, but did three dances: one in an evening gown, one in a bikini, one in nothing at all. The woman in the picture may have been one of these singers, or a stripper in the process of getting down to nothing. It is not likely that the Free China Review, a magazine devoted to showing off the best of Taiwan, would run a photo of a naked woman.

Chuck Jones
University of Virginia

TUE AUG 01, 1995 08.08.54

Dear Mr. Hori,

Speculating over your querrie regarding exotic new funeral customs in Taiwan from my perspective as an anthropologist of Korea, I'm with Rob and Chuck. Judging from the case in Taiwan, it seems that the division between ritual and secular life is not so great after all. That is, what's good for the living is good for the dead; and what's good for the secular is good for the sacred. Once stripping performances have become fashionable in mainstream social life, can they be excluded from the likes of funeral rites?

I had the same difficulty understanding the reactions of several (otherwise prudish female) university friends from Taiwan who were quite openly browsing over images of nude performers in a popular Taiwan magazine. All of them claimed that they had never heard of such performances or seen such pictures in a Taiwan publication before. I would argue that what made such images and viewing them acceptable was the fact that they appeared in an acceptable magazine, not the "appropriateness" of such images or the openness of viewers to them.

jim thomas

TUE AUG 01, 1995 08.08.58

While we're talking about exotic funerals and strippers, I was wondering if anyone has ever read about erotic Han dynasty tomb murals. I seem to recall a brief mention about them in van Gulik's Erotic Prints of the Ming Dynasty but have been unable to find the page again. I've also asked people at the National Palace Museum here in Taiwan but they just laughed.

Are there such things? And if they are, where are they mentioned. Kaogu and Wenwu don't seem to say anything, but I could have easily missed it.


Charles Randles

TUE AUG 01, 1995 08.09.05 writes: [...]

In my research I have run across erotic bas reliefs excavated in Shandong Province in the Jinan area. The subject matter consists of couples copulating and individuals masturbating. This material has only recently been excavated, about (2 years ago) and is not yet published. When I was in Shandong, the archaeologist was kind enough to show me rubbings of these stones. This was Spring, '94. He told me that they were going to publish the site in Kaogu xuebao in Fall '94. As far as I know it has not yet come out. Also there is the relatively well-known relief from Pengshan County Sichuan Province representing a man and a woman in a passionate embrace, his hand caressing her breast (See Stories from China's Past: Han Dynasty Pictorial Tomb reliefs and archaeological objects from Sichuan Province, People's Republic of China, Lucy Lim ed. Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco, 1987.) In an article "A glimpse of intimate play in Han Dynasty Reliefs" by Liu Yusheng, there is also an unabashedly erotic scene of a man and a woman copulating (also from Sichuan). They are shown lying on a mat enframed by curtains/ canopy, resembling either a curtained bed or, perhaps, even a stage. Anyways this is a good article since it gathers together a number of erotic scenes and has references. The journal is Han hua yanjiu (Study of the Han portrayal)1993.3 pp.9-15. Since this journal is rather obscure you may have trouble finding it. If you're interested I can glean further references from his footnotes.

-Lydia Thompson

WED AUG 02, 1995 13.24.48

Exotic Funerals II

I originally posed a query about exotic funerals partly because there did not seem to be much happening on the list. However the query stimulated some good responses. Now I have some questions.

  1. (The idea of) exotic dancers at Taiwanese funerals seems to be associated with rural funerals. Is this a sign merely of place of origin? Is it a sign of urban snobbery?

    I am reminded of funerals in Saga Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan, where the ritual meal is always vegetarian. Right next door in Nagasaki Prefecture, the funeral meal has a lot of meat, some of it organ meat. The vegetarians say that the others have a RdifferentS or RinterestingS custom, but I think they look down upon meat-eating at such a time as gross and crude. Any parallels here?

  2. Several correspondents suggested that exotic dancing was a display for the deceased, and in that sense could justifiably be seen as a sign of filial piety. In funerals and memorial services I have attended in Japan, it was quite common to see the deceased person's favorite brand of tobacco or alcohol presented as an offering. Exotic dancing would just be an elaborate extension of this custom. However this hypothesis can be subjected to empirical confirmation. Some intrepid Ph. D. student needs to interview the chief mourner and ask his (or her) motive. Myself I do not think this is the whole story. I would not be surprised to find out that the deceased had no interest in strip shows while alive, or that exotic dancers perform at the funerals of women (who presumably have not the same interest in exotic dancers), or that the chief mourner had no explicit motive for paying exotic dancers to perform.
  3. The suggestion that exotic dancers are conceived of as a bribe to the gods in heaven is another such hypothesis which can be subjected to confirmation.
  4. My suspicion is that the explanation for this phenomenon has little to do with the "story" of the funeral. In a Japanese Zen Buddhist funeral, the "story" is this: the funeral is an ordination ceremony; the deceased person is treated as a novice becoming a monk; a razor is brought out and the deceased person's head is ritually shaved; he or she is given a "kaimyou" or precept name as would a novice in a monastery; the officiating priest intones a message ending in a tremendous shout KAAA!! which sends the deceased to the "other shore" of enlightenment. The "story" in a Chinese funeral (and in the subsequent memorial services), if I understand it properly, is built around the paradigm of host-and-guest. The deceased person is treated as a guest come to visit for a short while. The honoured guest is presented with flowers, candles, incense, etc. and of course, food and entertainment. Commensality establishes ancestor-descendant bonds and also enables the transmission of the ancestorUs special virtue to descendants. Having been proper in the world of the living.

    An exotic performance would fit in quite nicely under the "food and entertainment" slot. But I do not think that this is the whole story. While it is necessary that there be a slot for entertainments, it is not sufficient to explain why that slot should be filled with displays of the naked female body.

  5. Several correspondents seem to be implying that we Westerners should not impose our Western morality upon the Taiwanese (as did the Christian missionaries who found the nakedness of African women unseemly and forced them to wear long dresses with bustles). Sorry to be politically incorrect, but my instinct is that the Taiwanese too find the display of nakedness morally or socially surprising. This also is a hypothesis, but one which is a little more difficult to confirm. (That Ph. D. student better be really intrepid.)
  6. Finally, I am interested in a theme which cuts horizontally across the vertical story of the funeral. The Taiwanese funeral presents us with a spectrum of bodies. At one end, there is the body of the deceased, dead still, dressed in probably his or her best clothes. Then there are the bodies of the relatives, bodies moving slowly in mourning dressed ritually in colours and materials that show the closeness of relation, to the deceased. The there are the bodies of interested onlookers, dressed in ordinary clothes, moving at the pace of daily activity. And finally the bodies of exotic dancers, moving in dance and not clothed at all. That spectrum presents a typology. Is it a typology without meaning? Or can it be worked up into a theory?

I have some other speculations but this posting is getting too long.

Mournfully yours
Victor Hori
McGill University

WED AUG 02, 1995 13.26.34

Victor Hori, McGill

Dear Mr. Hori:

A friend has forwarded me back copies of some of the discussions you have started regarding strippers at Taiwanese funerals. I am very much interested in these discussions and would appreciate it if you could forward to my EMail address copies (if you still have them) of this correspondence.

Cheers, and thanks in advance.

J.L. Watson

Prof. James L. Watson, Department of Anthropology,
370 William James Hall,
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.

WED AUG 02, 1995 16.56.32

Dear Mr. Hori:

Thanks very much for forwarding to me your file on erotic funeral entertainment at Taiwanese funerals. I have, with your permission I hope and trust, forwarded the set of files to several of my friends (around the world) who work on ritual, performance, and funerary rites.

Please keep me posted if anything of interest emerged from these internet discussions.

With best wishes and thanks,


Woody Watson

Prof. James L. Watson, Department of Anthropology,
370 William James Hall,
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.

WED AUG 30, 1995 14.46.28

Dear All: Attached below is further discussion regarding strippers at Taiwanese funerals, this one from Steve Sangren at Cornell. Cheers, Woody

Date: Sat, 26 Aug 1995 11:20:26 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Steve Sangren" <>
To: jwatson@isr
Subject: RE: Taiwanese Funerals


Thanks for conveying the correspondence on strippers and funerals. The phenomenon is widely discussed in Taiwan -- both by the popular press and academics. I have not attended any funerals since my mid 1970s fieldwork. However, in the mid 1980s strippers formed part of the procession of Beigang Mazu on the occasion of her birthday. Apparently advertising a local house of entertainments, they were right in there with the floats depicting famous classical Chinese stories, dragon dancing troupes, etc., as Mazu visited the various quarters of the city. More recently, last year I saw scantily clad singers brought by a pilgrimage troupe to a Taiziyeh temple in Xinying.

Clearly, there is much to ponder in this phenomenon. I agree with whomever it was who suggests that the transgressive or shocking quality is understood as such by both audiences and sponsors. Indeed, I would speculate that this is the point. Among other potential contributing explanations, then, I would suggest that it is this shock value and the fact that in principle such performances are illegal that accounts for the current popularity of the practice. My hypothesis is that the ability to pull off an illegal, shocking entertainment demonstrates the political potency (e.g., influence with local police and perhaps higher authorities who agree to "look the other way") of sponsors (either of funerals or temple festivals). Moreover, the promise of such performances attracts audiences and provokes notoriety, contributing to the general festivity of the occasion. Consequently, I agree with the observation that explanation for the performances is better sought in the social and political circumstances of present-day Taiwan than in such arguments to the effect that the gods or the deceased enjoy them. I have no doubt that informants can be found who would offer explanations in such terms, but any ritual performance offered for gods' or ancestors' benefit would evoke similar responses. My guess is that the current popularity is mainly a consequence of an escalation of competitive display -- a kind of potlatch phenomenon. Getting away with breaking the law, especially in a public and shocking manner, shows the sponsors to be socially potent, even macho. The cultural mileau of present-day Taiwan is replete with this style -- buccanneering entrepreneurial activity, gangster-chik fashion, strippers and gangsters running for public office, etc.

I have discussed these ideas with Taiwanese colleagues as well as with people who would qualify as "informants." Most seem to agree that competitive display and face, oddly gained from the point of view of an overly Confucianized view of Chinese culture, are important factors in accounting for the popularity of what in other circumstances would seem to be trangressions of public morality.

These are obviously preliminary thoughts, but I agree with your correspondents that the topic is worthy of serious fieldwork and analytical contemplation. If you can forward this message to your list, I would appreciated it.


Steve Sangren

Prof. James L. Watson

WED AUG 30, 1995 14.46.32

Dear All Again:

Yet more discussion regarding Taiwanses funeral strippers, this note from John Shepherd who teaches in the Anthropology Department at the University of Virginia.

Cheers, Woody Watson

Date: Fri, 18 Aug 1995 12:28:33 -0400
From: "John R. Shepherd" <>
To: jwatson@isr
Subject: shepherd


Re your latest message on Taiwanese funeral stripteasers, I ran across the following interpretation in Michael Saso 1990 Blue Dragon White Tiger: p.150 "A strange custom of providing scantily-clad singing women from local bars and night clubs to entertain the demonic spirits, (ku-hun and kuei) has become popular in recent years in Taiwan. Only demons and unseemly element of society are supposedly entertained by these segments of the funeral procession, thus avoiding contamination of the purer elements of society who attend the funeral." Saso adds on page 159 at note 15 "Immoral entertainment, striptease acts, and rock singers are carried on floats in the procession, to attract evil spirits away from the living."

Enjoy. John.

WED AUG 30, 1995 14.46.35

Mr. Hori:

It's OK with me, but the notes are from two friends and it might be a good idea to ask their permission first.

They are Prof. Steve Sangren of Cornell
and Prof. John Shepherd of U. Virginia

Cheers, J. L. Watson

Prof. Watson

Thank you for the two posts on strippers in funerals in Taiwan. Both were useful.

May I have your permission to forward these messages to the eastasia-research bulletin board?

G. Victor Hori
McGill University

WED AUG 30, 1995 14.46.37

To: <>
Subject: Exotic Funerals in Taiwan

Prof Shepherd

Prof. Watson forwarded to me your message to him about strippers performing in funerals and weddings in Taiwan.

I was the one who started this thread on the eastasia-research bulletin board. My original query stimulated several responses but almost all were anecdotal (very interesting) but also not very analytical. Your message to Prof. Watson is very useful.

May I have your permission to forward it to the eastasia-research bulletin board. We need something substantial as we seem to be in a summer slump.

G. Victor Hori
Faculty of Religious Studies
McGill University

WED AUG 30, 1995 14.46.39

Dear Professor Hori,

Thanks for your interest. Please feel free to pass the message along.


Steve Sangren