It’s written in probably every business manual ever printed, that in order for a business to be successful, it must meet a need and it needs to offer value to its consumers. So meet Liu Jun-Lin (30), Taiwan’s top professional mourner who can cry on command – a useful trait in a time-honoured (and controversial) tradition.
Tradition meets business
The profession has a long history in Taiwan, based on the belief that the deceased needs a big, loud send-off in order to cross over smoothly into the afterlife. So why can’t loved ones be left to do the crying?
“When a loved one dies, you grieve so much that when it finally comes time to cry at the funeral, you don’t have any tears left,” says Liu. So she’s on hand to help set the mood and fire up the grieving spirits.
The origins of the tradition comes from family members having to travel to work in other cities and transport was limited. This meant that if someone died, not all the family members could attend and so mourners were hired to lead the family in their grieving.
The art of mourning
While crying makes up a large portion of the routine, Liu and her team offer entertainment too in the form of acrobatic dances of somersaults, back-bends and splits in colourful costumes. Her brother is in on the performance too, playing traditional string instruments.
But Liu insists that mourning isn’t an act:
“Every funeral you go to, you have to feel this family is your own family, so you have to put your own feelings in it. When I see so many people grieving, I get even sadder. But my work is to help people release their anger or help them say the things they’re afraid to say out loud. For people who are afraid to cry, it helps too, because everyone cries together.”
Passed down the family
Liu’s mother and grandmother were both professional mourners, mentoring Liu in the traditional wailing, singing and crawling into a coffin. But using her business skills, Liu and her siblings each have their own house, and their company charges up to $600 for a performance.
But it’s a business in decline, according to some, as the economic downturn and simpler, modern tastes turn people away from lavish traditional funerals, so people like Liu will need to find ways to reinvent their profession or find new sources of revenue.
Liu has anticipated this, and so she’s recruited 20 young, attractive female assistants in order to reinvent a performance traditionally occupied by older women. “There was no one else doing this in northern Taiwan, and it ended up being more successful than I’d thought. Within this industry, I know I need to find niches that no one else is exploring.”