- By Elizabeth F. RalphElizabeth Ralph is a researcher at Foreign Policy.
This past weekend, Zeng Jia prepared and participated in her own funeral — except she was alive the whole time. The Chinese college student, whose grandfather’s recent death inspired her to organize her own — rather premature — funeral, said that she staged the event in order to think about her life and to find her true self. "I feel so good after coming out of the coffin," Zeng told China Daily. Yeah, I bet.
Though the funeral was fake, at least the friends and family in attendance were real — something that is apparently not so much of a given anymore. The market for paid "mourners" — professionals hired to attend a funeral (and sometimes grieve rather dramatically) so that the deceased appears popular — is fairly large (and growing) in parts of China and the Middle East. And now, the trend has popped up in Britain. According to its website, "Rent-a-mourner," a new company based in Essex, rents out "professional, discrete people to attend funerals and wakes" for about $35 an hour.
Whether fake mourners are a sign of societal breakdown, as one Catholic Herald article claims, or just a way to make a grieving family feel a little better, the practice, along with Zeng’s funeral stunt, does raise the question: What does it mean when funerals aren’t quite so real anymore?
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |