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Man deals in laughter, tears

Updated: 2012-05-04 07:16
By Cheng Anqi ( China Daily)

Man deals in laughter, tears 

On April 23, Jiang Xiao, a worker at Daxing Funeral Parlor, cleans a tombstone in a graveyard in Beijing’s Daxing district. PHOTO BY LIU ZHE / CHINA DAILY 

Click for video story on Jiang Xiao

Jiang Xiao was born into a family of comedians and was on a career path to make people laugh.

Instead he chose to work in a place where people cry - the mortuary in Beijing's southern Daxing district.

"Without respect for the deceased, one can't really enjoy this life," said Jiang.

Since he was a child, the 32-year-old Beijinger had learned cross talk, a form of Chinese comedy involving dialogue between two individuals.

His father even named him "Xiao", meaning laugh.

However, in 1998, he saw an ad from the Daxing Funeral Parlor looking for a website manager.

Curious and interested, he applied for and landed the job.

But Jiang soon found he was taking care of more than just the website. Within a few years he was applying makeup to the deceased and preparing them for funeral services by dressing them in wigs or removing unwanted hair.

"Some work was tough and took me the whole night," he said. "I was sometimes scared when I heard the sound of my sneeze echoing inside a quiet, beautiful service room," he said.

"I learned to handle my fear, talking to the deceased, like, 'Hi there, I'll make you look as gorgeous as possible for your departure.' "

As time went by, Jiang grew used to working at the funeral parlor and was able to conduct any kind of related work. Then he became a funeral director, helping family members handle the details of memorial services.

He has dealt with all types of deaths in his 13-year career, from stillborn babies to those who have reached the grand old age of 104.

"Call me the director of God's office in Daxing," joked Jiang, who has, incidentally, kept active in the comedy scene with three performances a week at the Tingyunxuan Theater in Xicheng district.

 Man deals in laughter, tears

Jiang Xiao (right) performs cross talk with his partner at Renmin University of China in Beijing on April 23. PHOTO BY LIU ZHE / CHINA DAILY


"During the day, I watch people cry. At night, I make people laugh," he said.

Jiang recalled his funeral service for Zang Hong, a Beijing cross talk artist who passed away last month at the age of 80.

Zang became nationally acclaimed for singing more than 170 traditional hawking songs, and was also known as "The King of Hawking".

"He used to be good at performing cross-talk and enjoyed applause, so at the beginning of his funeral I asked the mourners to give him warm applause to show respect for his recordings of the vanishing art form," Jiang said.

His father, Jiang Shunkui, disagreed at first with his son's career choice.

"He is a good cross-talk performer. Sometimes I wonder if he might have become somebody in the field had he continued the pursuit full time," said his father.

"Besides, I also worried about him getting married. It could be difficult for him to find a girlfriend (working at the funeral parlor)."

Jiang finally got his father's approval and support by bringing him to a service he presided over.

"Under his command, the ceremony was solemn and full of traditional culture," his father said. "I had to admit, he also has a talent for that."

Jiang Xiao himself has never shied from talking about his work at the parlor.

"We deal with the deceased, so we have a better understanding of life and death and know the importance of enjoying life," Jiang said.