While tensions remain palpable between the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Donald Trump over diplomatic gaffes, an unusual scene to remember and draw attention took place at Chiayi City in Taiwan recently on January 3, as a late retired politician of the area was laid to rest following a most unusual funeral procession. Unusual in that the convoy of automobiles included fifty jeeps of various colors, with their attached roofs boasting a metal pole – each with a pole dancer sensuously gyrating around it in time to the procession’s musical accompaniment.

Sexy mourning

Tung Hsiang, a former Speaker of the Chiayi County Council, died December last year at the age of 76. The strange and eye-catching funeral dancers were hired for the occasion by his son, who related that his father came to him in a dream to request that his memorial services be made “hilarious”. In accordance with this posthumous message, Tung’s procession was enlivened not only by the sexy pole dancers, but with traditional drummers, luxury automobiles from overseas, marching flag-bearers and traditional Chinese totems. All these were chosen, according to Tung’s son, to represent his late father’s favorite pastime of hanging out at bustling, busy places.

Changing tradition

Those who have some passing knowledge of traditions in Chinese culture would be aware of the funeral practice of having paid mourners, usually ladies, in order to wail for the sake of the departed.

That's pretty much all they’re supposed to do at this “job”. But this practice is old school, even in the eyes of a number of ethnic Chinese, and with the passing of time comes changes in the way they hold vigil during a wake, or how they take their dead to the final resting place. Before anyone knew what was happening, the crying ladies were replaced by good-looking exotic dancers and strippers.

Having scantily-clad dancers gracing funerals first took off in Taiwan during the 1980s, ostensibly as a celebration of the increasing the strength of the economy. Originally the practice was more the preference of organized crime groups in Taiwan but eventually spread among working-class or impoverished communities and their funerals, not only throughout the island but in some parts of rural mainland China as well.

Tung’s funeral march was this new twist on an old tradition.

Crackdown in China

But just because it’s become commonplace doesn’t mean everyone has just accepted it. The Chinese government, which in the wake of the recent smog outbreak slapped new taxes on companies that produce air pollutants from their manufacturing facilities, has long been coming down hard on funeral strippers on the mainland, as exotic dancing is counted as pornography and therefore illegal in China. Even in Taiwan, regulations now prevent dancers at wakes from going full frontal nude, in consideration for children among mourners.