the wailers: singing the banban

Wailing for a sense of belonging? Its the funeral performance industry where you pay for a heartfelt story.The idea is to guarantee a spectacle in grief and conjure up the necessary emotional charge to ensure a noisy and impassioned farewell.  Professional wailers who are performers paid to present the eulogy at a funeral and lament the deceased through anguished songs. Wailing is an ancient Chinese funeral custom. But during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the great leap forward, wailing was perceived as a insidious feudal poison and was banned.Now, in the reform era of go-go capitalism, its seeing a revival. Although funeral wailing has existed in the backwoods of eastern Europe and Yugoslavia in the early twentieth-century, China is a rarity today…

---Hu says that more time is devoted to wailing in the countryside. In video recordings, Hu can be seen howling, weeping with her eyes covered, and at times crawling on the ground in front of the coffin in an display of sorrow. At some funerals, she crawls for several meters as she weeps. This never fails to move the mourners. As she wails, the family of the deceased sob, and some of them weep uncontrollably.--- Read More:

…Wailers actually belong to an ancient profession that now keeps a low profile thanks to its singular characteristics. In Chongqing and Chengdu, wailers and their special bands have, over the course of more than a decade, developed into a professional, competitive market.

Studies show that wailers are predominantly laid-off workers. To support themselves, they rely on weeping and melancholy songs for their income. They and their bands believe that, like everyone else, they are engaging in a profession and performing a job. Read More:

In Chongqing, people call funeral performances “singing the banban” ; banban is the colloquial name for open-air mourning halls in Chongqing), which lends the industry its name … Hu Xinglian has been in the industry for fourteen years and has been a professional wailer for seven. In her rough estimation, Chongqing has nearly 2,000 similar bands, and practically all of them have a wailer….

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…Hu says that for a wailer, sobbing, covering the face, and kneeling on the ground are all techniques to increase the effect of the performance.

She discovered this set of techniques after she entered the industry.

She used to be a shop assistant at a department store. She divorced in 1995 and had to take care of her college-aged son and her ailing parents. Her monthly income was less than 300 yuan. She worked as a sales clerk during the day, and at night she waited tables at a restaurant." alt="" width="500" height="333" />

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“I was usually pretty active, and I liked singing and dancing.” Hu says that on one occasion, a colleague had her sing at a funeral. She sang three songs and made 20 RMB.

That 20 RMB aroused her interest. She said to the band leader, “If you think I’ll work out, get in touch.” Then she began a second job as a singer.Read More: aaa

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aaaSebastien Blanc:Hu then dances for several minutes, falling to her knees and crawling several times before shaking the hands of the visibly moved family members. And then suddenly, the evening turns festive.
Funereal chants are replaced with popular songs and comedy stories. A belly dancer performs, followed by a woman in a leopard-print bustier, black leather hot pants and fishnet stockings who writhes to a pulsating techno beat.Read More:
Li Xin: I was perplexed. Even if I looked dumb and gave careless answers, though, I certainly kept my senses and noticed Mozart’s Requiem was playing. And beside the coffin stood a red, blue and green Taoist flag bearing the names of grandma as well as a number of Buddhas. Now I thought I was in a Stanley Kubrick film, only it was a Chinese version and I was in the cast. My third surprise was a notice that I should be ready to stay in the tent for awhile, not measured in hours but in days. The whole funeral, called Shouling or guarding the spirit in Chinese, lasted three full days. Throughout, the closest relatives must keep the incense burning and greet visitors, 24/7. The purpose is to give visitors three days to travel distances to the place of mourning….

…You have to admire the professionals. Dressed in a Taoist robe with a funny crown, a guy murmured for two hours and then broke into dancing, waving and shouting, before smashing three clay pots and killing a cock. Observers could hardly keep a straight face. It looked really funny and nobody believed in the hodgepodge of folk religion routines. It was a show. But for whom was it staged? My poor grandma was a die-hard communist. And, moreover, why would we keep the non-stop, three-day guarding the spirit tradition if everyone suffered? …

…At a time that brings people to consider eternal questions, i.e. the meaning of life and death, deep reflection had been substituted by a market product. And the market does what it’s best at: linking western standards with eastern characters. This trick might work on Qipao-style gowns, Hollywood Kung Fu movies or German cars with spacious back seats. However when it’s not about products but a culture-rich procedure, the marriage of Mozart with Taoism was comic and deplorable. Now is the time one turns to his own culture to find peace of mind. Look what’s left there? Poor folks, I figure. But who can blame them? The search for Chinese-ness in the nation’s ancient history is a fad. The Confucius statue standing at Tiananmen Square erected by the government is a case in point. It’s nothing but a declaration of failure in modern Chinese culture. The country did make progress in material gains, but it offers so little to soothe, heal and inspire. Read More:


David Harrison O’Dell: Most Westerners take music for granted on the average, engaging in a song if the beat is snappy or if the lyrics are catchy, Chinese people on the average seem to put more weight on the singers vocal ability. “If the singer has a pleasant voice, Chinese people will like it…” a friend in the music industry once mentioned. This statement couldn’t describe the situation any better; you’ll see evidence of this in any active karaoke bar dotting East Asia; people singing their hearts out to the latest hits. For the Chinese it’s a pleasure to sing, in the open or in private, the movement of the song is in the motions of the individual’s vocal ability, the lyrics are there to be maneuvered and not changed. The average Chinese person sees real talent coming from those whose voices are uplifting, full of strength and sometimes patriotic. I would see the importance of vocal ability compared to the American lounge music of the 40′s and 50′s when a song could be released two or three times by several different performers with different vocal emotions in each. Was it Frank Sinatra’s or Johnny Mathis’s version of “I Did it My Way” that the public liked better? Really, it doesn’t matter, the point is that the vocalist was the focus, not the song, the lyrics went unchanged and therefore the song becomes neutral.

Chinese vocalists represent their gender clearly and unmistakably. For example, you won’t hear a female vocalist grind her voice like Joan Jett or Janis Joplin. 99% of female Chinese vocalists sound stereotypically ‘female’ with high-pitch voices, carrying delicate lyrics several octaves upwards (some female vocalists borrow from the Peking Opera style of singing, a high-pitched style with extended wavering tones near the end of words). Male vocalists are typically ‘male’ with bold, heroic voices; not necessarily deep or low toned, but full of power and direction.




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