Nearly a decade ago, a devoted son whose father was fond of strippers hired several of them to perform at the old man’s funeral, thus brightening his journey to heaven.
The idea caught on. One recent day, three young women gyrated their bikini-clad bodies and sang popular songs atop a van in a noisy funeral procession that wound through the streets of this hilly Taipei suburb.
Government officials describe the erotic funerals as offensive to both living and dead, but proceed carefully lest the events qualify as legitimate displays of Buddhist ancestor worship.
Newspaper reports say the practice began eight years ago at the funeral of a wealthy businessmen in Hsilou, a southern farming town.
As the United Daily News explained it, “The pious son hired several young women to perform erotic dances at the funeral procession so his father would not be too lonely on his way to heaven.”
The use of dancers in funeral processions spread to other parts of this affluent island as a way to honor the dead and make funerals more festive. Now, erotic funerals are status symbols and account for about one-third of the 2,000 burial rites in Taiwan each week.
During the funeral procession in Peitou, for a landowner, three dancers on a colorfully decorated podium crooned off-key to the accompanying blare of a synthesizer. The van, called an “electronic float,” was in the midst of bands that played mournful music in the mile-long procession to the cemetery.
At the burial site, witnesses said, the dancers peeled off their remaining garments as a final tribute to the departed.
Elaborate funeral processions are common in Taiwan. Those for rich men or gang leaders often consist of up to 40 black limousines and minivans, many adorned with portraits of the deceased.
Usually the funeral follows weeks of ceremonies at a flower-bedecked pavilion built outside the home of the deceased. At the pavilion, Buddhist monks and nuns circle the sealed coffin, chanting scriptures to calm the soul.
So popular have dancers been at funerals that they also are used by politicians at campaign rallies and by monks at temple festivals. Nude performances are illegal in Taiwan, but officials say few arrests are made at erotic funerals because police are afraid of offending the dead.
Parents complain that “electronic floats” expose children to indecency. The government tried a crackdown three years ago, but officials said agencies charged with regulating the various aspects--stripping, noise and unlicensed decoration of vehicles--did not coordinate their efforts well enough.
Under a new strategy, city and county governments have been ordered to educate the people about the seriousness of funerals and of preserving their culture.
In the old days, “Chinese people traditionally paid special attention to funeral rituals to honor the dead,” Yeh Liang-tseng, chief official of Peitou, said at a meeting with owners of funeral-related businesses.
They shunned banquets, he noted, and often avoided haircuts or shaving for years to mourn the death of parents.
“Now, people hold more animated funerals but show little sadness,” Yeh said. “Rich people who love to show off their wealth, and others who love excitement, have turned traditionally solemn funerals into farces.”
Funeral vehicles should be decorated with Buddhist statues and carry bands that play classical or religious music, officials declare.
Businessmen say the official message does not seem to be getting across, particularly since a van with a dancer and a synthesizer can be hired for less than $400.
“I agree such funerals look strange, but people like it,” said Chen Hsin-chi, who runs a fleet of 10 floats and 15 dancers in Peitou. “How can I reject the business?”