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Professional Mourner
Professional mourner Hu Xinglian in action at a funeral in Chongqing, China. She comes to work with a full soundsystem, multi-color spotlights and the six members of her band. LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Image
Professional mourner Hu Xinglian in action at a funeral in Chongqing, China. She comes to work with a full soundsystem, multi-color spotlights and the six members of her band. LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Image

In China, where funerals are elaborate, highly ritualized affairs, the tradition of hiring professional mourners has been around for more than 2,000 years. In 2013, NPR News ran a profile on Dingding Mao, one of the "top professional mourners" in southwestern China, famous for her theatrical and ear-numbing kusang, a deafening combination of crying and singing that forms the centerpiece of any respectable Chinese funeral.

In neighboring Taiwan, 30-year-old Liu Jun-Lin performs a similar role, filling in as the "filial daughter" for a deceased mother or father. She and her brother perform elaborate costumed dance numbers before Liu performs her signature wail, crawling toward the coffin and pleading with the deceased loved one — whom she never knew, of course — to come back home [source: Jaynes].

While the idea of hired criers hasn't quite caught on in the West, the career prospects for aspiring mourners are picking up. In England, a company called Rent a Mourner supplies "professional, polite, well dressed individuals" to swell the numbers at poorly attended funerals and wakes.

And in the U.S., the Golden Gate Funeral Home in Fort Worth, Texas hires boisterous extras to get the tears flowing at its flashy "home-going celebrations," as chronicled in the TLC docudrama "Best Funeral Ever."


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