Dancing for the Dead

Dancing for the Dead: Stumbling Across a Tujia Funeral

A chance encounter with the Tujia ethnic group’s funeral practices in south-central China

They move like ghosts in the night. Techno music infused with cymbals, flutes, and singing in an unfamiliar minority dialect thumps into the highland jungle from a roadside PA system. Through the dusk I can see a procession of white-clad people moving about—the ghosts are waving at me to join in.

At first, the entire spectacle seems bizarre, like a party for spirits. A red truck is parked next to a small house where a stage has been assembled, complete with rotating stage lights, an LED screen, and an aluminum stage frame.

My face is wretched and dirty from a full day of riding a motorbike through the jungles of Chongqing in central China, under the merciless highland sun that causes temperatures upward of 40 degrees Celsius this time of year.

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Dancing for the Dead: Stumbling Across a Tujia Funeral is a story from our issue, “Upstaged.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Mads Vesterager Nielsen

Mads Vesterager Nielsen is a burgeoning explorer who rides his trusty motorbike, nicknamed “The Little Black Yak,” to far-flung corners of the People’s Republic. He is a staunch believer in the spirit of adventure, even in a modern and demystified world. Rather than clinging to old notions of glorious exploration, his background in the social sciences has led him to believe that “authenticity” is a messy mixture of ingredients such as culture, society, history, technology, and mythology as it exists today.

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