I entered the mourning profession at the age of twelve. My teacher forced me to practice the basic suona tunes, as well as to learn how to wail and chant. Having a solid foundation in the basics enables a performer to improvise with ease, and to produce an earth-shattering effect. Our wailing sounds more authentic than that of the children or relatives of the deceased.
Most people who have lost their family members burst into tears and begin wailing upon seeing the body of the deceased. But their wailing doesn’t last. Soon they are overcome with grief. When grief reaches into their hearts, they either suffer from shock or pass out. But for us, once we get into the mood, we control our emotions and improvise with great ease. We can wail as long as is requested. If it’s a grand funeral and the money is good, we do lots of improvisation to please the host.
"How long can you wail? What was your record?"
Two days and two nights…Voices are our capital and we know how to protect them…
…Frankly speaking, the hired mourners are the ones who can stick to the very end.
That is from Liao Yiwu’s excellent The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up. Here is a previous installment in the series. Here is an out of date book, by comedian Eddie Cantor. Here is a photo: