Weeping for Strangers – The Professional Mourners of Taiwan

In Taiwan, staging a dramatic funeral for relatives who have passed away is of the utmost importance. So, to create the proper atmosphere, wealthy families hire professional mourners who cry, sing and crawl on the ground to show their grief.

Taiwan’s “filial daughter” phenomenon emerged during the 1970s, when sons and daughters left their families to work in the city. Transport was limited, so if one of their parents died and they couldn’t make it back in time for the funeral, they would hire a filial daughter to take their place and lead the family in mourning. For some Taiwanese, showing grief in a dramatic fashion is the highest reverence for relatives who have passed away, because funerals are considered the most important times to honor one’s family. But not everyone has it in them to shed tears and show their pain in public, so to help create a grieving atmosphere, they hire professional mourning daughters. They chant, dance and wail, warming the hearts of the audience and helping them release their emotions. Crying on command isn’t easy, but professional mourners, like 30-year-old Liu Jun Lin, say it helps to really get involved in the event and consider the family that hired them their own. “I just imagine that I am part of the family and I fuse myself into the occasion,” she says.


Photo: China Times

Mourning rituals start with the group of performers lined up outside the funeral parlor, slowly crawling inside, to symbolize the daughters married into other families returning home for their parent’s death. Crying and chanting into a microphone, they make their way to the coffin for their final goodbyes. The mourners wear traditional white hoods and robes to hide their faces and tears. Even though she considers herself a dutiful actress, young Liu Jun Lin says every tear she sheds  is real. She doesn’t have to practice crying on command, it just comes naturally to her, after seeing the sad members of the grieving family. She has been mourning for strangers for 19 years and is now the most famous filial daughter in Taiwan.


Photo: Macau Daily

The tradition of hiring professional mourners is slowly dying in Taiwan. While older generations still appreciate their role in staging a dramatic funeral, younger Taiwanese have begun opting for more reserved events, and only hire filial daughter bands at the insistence of older relatives . Public authorities have also banned this kind of performances in some parts of the country to cut noise pollution. Unless they can reinvent their profession, mourners-for-hire will just have to deal with the idea that they’ll be out of a job in a few years. The custom is also practiced in parts of China and African countries like Kenya.

And just in case you were wondering, this isn’t the only bizarre funeral tradition in Taiwan. In some parts of the country, exotic dancers are hired to attract more mourners, thus honoring the dead even more.

Sources: Reuters, St. Augustine

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