Crying Culture: China & Japan

By Xiuyi Wu and Yumiko Mita

Crying Culture in CHINA

In China, crying in front of others has generally been seen as shameful. East Asian society as a whole, including Chinese culture, prefers implicitly expressed emotions. However, many people in China view crying as a privilege for women because there are some circumstances in which it is understandable. This phenomena may then be thoroughly examined, and we will discover
that this exemption does not represent preferential treatment for women.

哭嫁 (Crying Marriage):
Crying marriage is an ancient Chinese wedding custom, now common in some remote areas of rural southern China, in which the bride performs a ritual crying at the time of her wedding. Depending on regional customs, crying usually begins about a month before the wedding, when the bride begins to cry and friends and relatives will weep along with her. It is said that the bride is considered unlucky and even condemned by the public if she does not cry.

Lyrics in Crying: The Sadness of Separation
In some rural communities, a married daughter is compared to spilled water, and it is shameful for her to go back to her mother’s family after her marriage. Therefore, once these ladies get married, it is quite difficult for them to see their parents, relatives, and childhood friends.

Complaint against Marriage
In the past, women did not have enough liberty to choose their spouses, and a lot of marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. It was incredibly frightening to get married to someone you had never met, so it was crucial to express displeasure with this convention and complaints against society in the lyrics of Cry.

East Asian social anthropologist Choi Kilsong writes in his book, Cultural Anthropology of Crying (哭きの文化人類学), that Hakka (,客家, Chinese ethnic group) women are largely uneducated and that Hakka society is utterly patriarchal and male-centered. It is stated that women only cry to show their emotions on the seldom occasions of weddings and funerals, and that this was the only occasion where they had the freedom to express their emotions. At village gatherings, women are not allowed to speak. Even when elder women speak up, their opinions are rarely taken seriously.

Freedom to cry
Although most developed regions of China have abandoned this tradition, women have always faced varied degrees of inequality in both life and the workplace due to patriarchal society. Whether being forced to cry, or having the privilege of crying because it is seen as vulnerable are something Chinese women want to have.

Crying Culture in JAPAN

Data from the International Study on Adult Crying suggest that, of the 37 nationalities polled, the Japanese are among the least likely to cry. (Americans, by contrast, are among the most likely.)

“Hiding one’s anger and sadness is considered a virtue in Japanese culture,” a Japanese psychiatrist told the newspaper Chunichi Shimbun in 2013.

涙活 (Rui-Katsu):
It’s safe to say we all have much to cry about these days. People are encouraging one another to express mental distress: Even leaders are crying in public. And that’s OK: Crying can be really, really good for you. And that’s the message that Hidefumi Yoshida, a self-described tears teacher, is out to share. He holds workshops across Japan, where he helps grown-ups learn to cry. Whether it’s breaking the stigma around crying out of grief or simply learning to weep for better mental health, it’s a lesson we all could probably embrace a little more right now.

E.g. The Man Teaching Japan to Cry

Culturally Appropriate Crying: Gatherings
When one person starts crying, it is a cue for others to cry. This may be due to peer pressure, or to practice homogeneity. People are usually expected to cry when there is a celebration (e.g. Birthday) with alcohol, or when there is a touching moment (e.g. baseball event).

Women are expected to cry more than men. The gender stereotype that Japanese women are “cry-babies” and emotional are ingrained. Thus, men expect women to cry at any inconvenience that may arise. This is translated to the anime culture as well.

● Japanese people are most unlikely to express mental distress
● “Hiding one’s anger and sadness is considered a virtue in Japanese culture”
● Tear teacher, Hidefumi Yoshida, started a movement called “Rui-katsu” (Tear Activity) that encourages people to cry
● While expressing distress or strong emotions are uncommon, Japanese people tend to express their true emotions at gatherings that involve alcohol.
● There are also cultural expectations that when one starts to cry, others join in. Women are expected to cry more than men.

● While there are differences, China and Japan are both repressive when it comes to expressing emotions. Therefore, many people suffer from mental health issues.
● Crying could be the best practice to regain health, balance in life, especially when our lifestyles have vastly changed and become limited during COVID-19.
● Letting out emotions should not be a taboo; rather encouraged. People should be free to express themselves regardless of societal pressure.


Art, Emotion, Crying

This is a piece of art “The moon in the forest” I made during my depression, a vision from my dreams. At that time, the psychiatrist asked me to describe my feeling. I felt like a heavy black gas enveloped me. I recorded this feeling in the form of electronic painting. Whenever I see this painting now, I can still recall the feeling at that time, which may be the ability of art to record emotions.

In the artwork, I added a character, looking for light in the dark forest, I hope to remind people who are suffering from depression in this way, never give up looking for light.

The moon in the forest
Zhixuan Zhou. 2022
Hand-painted creation with Photoshop.



The aim of this project is to create a performance that will last for eight hours – the normalized span of a working day (at least in Western-European conceptions of employment). The performance refers to my personal past, working as a tailor for several studios and workshops.

I will invest eight hours of labor in undoing my own work by taking apart a jacket that I have made myself (within more than 60 hours of handcrafting).

The performance should take place in a shop window.

The performance will take place during summaery 2023.

The project poses questions of what it takes to undo or erase – what can possibly be undone through the process of taking apart and what new things, objects, ideas, feelings, memories, and values emerge from it?

Is it possible to undo work? And with it erase passed time? Ultimately, will it be possible to undo time?

Performance Score:

+ The performance will happen inside Kiosk.6 at Sophienstiftplatz, Weimar.
The performance will take 8 hours. Within the 8 hours I will take apart a jacket that I have made myself during my apprenticeship stitch by stitch.

+ With me in the Kiosk there will be the jacket, a chair, the tools I need to take it apart, an empty mannequin, a punchclock and a camera. The singled out pieces of the jacket will fill up the window displays bit by bit.
The camera will be directed at my face, covered in tears, or at my hands by turns.

+ The front window of the kiosk will be open to enable interaction with passers-by.
Above the window there will be a screen showing what the live-camera captures.
Next to the screen the title of the performance is displayed.

+ Every hour (starting on hour 0) I will punch the punchclock, that is programmed to count backwards. I will also use a tear-stick to make my lacrimal sacs produce tears.

+ The performance ends when the 8 hours have passed. By the end all pieces of the jacket shall be detached from each other.

Why Tears?

In tailoring, like in many artisan traditions, there are a lot of superstitions intertwined with the craft. They mostly connect with abjects of the body of the artisan, produced while working on a piece. For example: In Germany, when making a wedding dress, a drop of blood should be placed somewhere at the inlay – which is supposed to bring good luck and help for a happy marriage (it also used to symbolize bloodline and a mother’s grieve, as the mother of a bride was supposed to sew her wedding dress). In France, unmarried embroiderers would sew in one of their own hair into a wedding dress, in order to be the next one to marry.

I decided to create a new superstitious tradition, making use of my tears. By crying while opening the seams of my jacket, I can make the past undone.

At the same time, the meanings of the tears – like those of the drop of blood – are manifold. They symbolize superstition, but they could also flow because of grieve, trauma, fear, melancholy, or relieve. They catalyze negative emotions and wash them out.



I cry to purge.

To cleanse my body.

And let go of the pressure.

Catharsis (Ancient Greek: κάθαρσις) is a term often used to describe that state of purification. Most prominently described in Artistotle’s Poetics, it was in ancient times and is still today in use as a means of narration. Aristotle found catharsis mainly in the dramatic form of tragedy. The staging of a tragedy evokes a state in the audience that ought to purge them of negative sentiments. This is achieved through mimesis (imitation or simulation) of actions. Poetic text and theatrical acting together induce a more or less intense simulation, depending on the skill of their originators – according to Aristotle. A good mimesis then provokes those two things called éleos and phóbos in the spectator.

Pity and Fear are commonly used as the English translation of éleos and phóbos. Within German speaking studies though, their corresponding terms „Mitleid“ und „Furcht“ (a translation originating from G. E. Lessing) would be criticised as imprecise. Therefore a more accurate description of what induces catharsis would be lament/ emotion (Jammer/ Rührung) on one side and terror/ shudder (Schrecken/ Schauder) on the other.

A good catharsis is meant to help me cleanse my passions or sentiments. As I watch the protagonist go through intense states on stage (or respectively: on screen, in a novel, in a telenovela etc.) I feel for them. I take a stance towards the mimetic simulation in which my sentient and, what’s more, my moral compass are shaped. Catharsis, throughout history, was therefore frequented as an instrument for moral and politcal education – bearing in itself, of course, the immediate potential of misuse.

In a psychological sense, the element of catharsis is also in use, very pracitcally, to cleanse from traumatic experiences or to handle negative memories. There are various methods in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy that attempt to induce cathartic moments, hoping to heal wounds. (see, for example: anger therapy (S. Freud), psychodrama (J.L. Moreno))

The importance of telling stories of trauma, and with it building a bridge between the literary and the psychological sense of catharsis, is pointed out by philosopher Richard Kearny:

„Cathartic healing involves the narrating of past wounds both as they happened and as if they happened in this way or that. And it is precisely this double response of truth (as) and fiction (as-if) that emancipates us from our habitual protection and denial mechanisms. One suddenly experiences oneself as another and the other as oneself – and thereby begin to apprehend otherwise unapprehendable pain.“

Kearny, Richard: „Narrative Imagination and Catharsis.“, n.d., Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.


Abd Elsalam, Dina: „Psychodrama and Sociodrama: Aristotelian Catharsis Revisited.“ Alexandria, UP, 2015.

Aristoteles: „Poetik.“ Translation by Manfred Fuhrmann. Stuttgart, Philipp Reclam, 1982.

Cherry, Kendra: „What is Catharsis?“ Verywell mind, 20 Aug. 2022, Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.

Halliwell, Stephen: „Katharsis.“, 2005, Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.

Katharsis. Dorsch: Lexikon der Psychologie, n.d., Accessed 12 Jan. 2023.

Kearny, Richard: „Narrative Imagination and Catharsis.“, n.d., Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.

Sabata, Valeria: „Die Bedeutung der Katharsis in der Psychologie.“ Gedankenwelt, 15 Nov. 2021, Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.

The Meaning of Catharsis in Freudian Theory. Act For Libraries, n.d., Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.


Crying als Ritual, als Zeremonie

existing crying material: professionelles Klagen in Neapel

Als ich von 2012 bis 2013 in Neapel gewohnt habe, ist in einer der Wohnungen, die an denselben Innenhof grenzten wie mein Zimmer, ein Mensch gestorben. Ich kenne die Umstände nicht, noch habe ich die tote Person gesehen. Jedoch war für drei Tage das Klagen mutmaßlich professionell Klagender zu hören. Das Klagen, das auch Singen umfasste, war rund um die Uhr wahrnehmbar. Die Klagenden wechselten sich ab und ich konnte sehen, wie sie über den Hof kamen und gingen.

Innenhof in der Vico Luperano (google/Maps)

In der Zeit, die ich in Neapel verbrachte, konnte ich immer wieder beobachten, dass die Beziehung zum Tod und die Aussicht zu sterben, den Menschen gegenwärtiger ist. Das hat viele Gründe, die über die Jahrhunderte besprochen wurden. Zum einen liegt die Stadt zwischen dem aktiven Vulkan Vesuv und den Campi Flegrei (Phlegräische Felder), hier wurde schon in der römischen Antike der Eingang zur Unterwelt vermutet.1 Zum anderen ist die Mafia genauso sichtbar wie der Vulkan. Die Porträts ihrer getöteten Mitglieder prangen als Murales auf der Straße und weilen so weiter unter den Lebenden.

Il murales dedicato a Ugo Russo, Napoli. Il Manifesto vom 28.02.2021,, abgerufen am 19.03.2023.

Das Leben in Neapel ist immer konfrontiert mit dem Tod und die Bewohnerinnen nähern sich den Toten an, statt sie zu fürchten. Über Jahrhunderte haben sich in Neapel/im ganzen Süden Italiens besondere Formen des in der Welt seins, Rituale und Sprachen entwickelt, in Opposition zum hegemonialen und dominanten Norden (Italiens). Elisa Giuliano, eine Kuratorin der Ausstellung Ceremony (Burial of an Undead World) (10-12/22, HKW, Berlin) schreibt in dem gleichnamigen Katalog in ihrem Text Kiss the Dead:

It is what we call „a third space“, one that is perhaps mobile and radically other, but also exist at a distance from the world-systemic order of colonial modernity and capitalism. This typically Neapolitan capacity for distancing and resistance is due to to the indiffe- rence that Neapolitans express toward power.

In der Ausstellung selbst wird in mehreren Stationen die magische Praxis der Neapolitanerinnen beleuchtet. Ein besonderer Fokus liegt dabei auf der Pflege von Gebeinen unbekannter Menschen in den Katakomben der Kathedrale Basilica di San Pietro ad Aram. In diesem Ritus kommt die Ignoranz der Neapolitaner*innen gegenüber der Obrigkeit gut zum Ausdruck. Der Mythos sagt, dass die Gebeine von Menschen stammen, deren Seelen nun im Zwischenort Fegefeuer feststecken. Lebende Lebenden, die um diese Gebeine trauern und sie pflegen, können den Aufenthalt der Seelen im Fegefeuer verkürzen. Die Verstorbenen nehmen zu den sie Pflegenden Kontakt über deren Träume auf und teilen Informationen über ihre Identität mit. Die sie Umsorgenden lernen so die vorher anonyme Person kennen und kommunizieren fortan mit ihnen über Träume.

Cimitero delle Fontanelle, Foto: Karoline Schneider.

1969 schloss die katholische Kirche, die Orte, in denen diese Form der Knochenverehrung stattfand, mit der Begründung, dass nur Gebeine von Heiligen diese Aufmerksamkeit erhalten dürfen und das Pflegen von Gebeinen von Seelen im Fegefeuer von Nekrophilie geprägt ist und befremdlich sei. (Vgl. Giuliano 2022, S. 193) Heute wird der Brauch an vier unterirdischen Standorten weitergeführt. Über den Zeitraum des Verbotes hat er in Erzählungen überdauert und sich in Einzelfällen performativ über den Score „Andare a basilare il morto!“ (Geh und küsse die Toten) erhalten, wie Laura, eine Neapolitanerin in Giulianos Text berichtet. (Ebd. S. 192) Die Kombination aus einer widerständigen Geste im Ritual und dem Betrauern von Seelen unbekannter Entitäten, die nicht den Status Heiliger haben, interessiert mich sehr. Der liminale Zustand der Seelen und ihrer Anhänger, die zum Fegefeuer oder zur Marginalität verurteilt sind, sind in der Tat in der Lage, den dominanten Referenten, die Kirche, zu entzaubern. Sylvia Wynter unterstreicht, dass die Kategorie des Liminalen eine bewusste Veränderung bewirken kann, indem sie die Ungerechtigkeit der dominanten /normativen Struktur aufdeckt. Diese gerät, ihrer Autorität beraubt ins Schwanken. Gleichzeitig öffnet der Blick für das Liminale alternative Denkweisen und Handlungsspielräume. (Wynter 2015, S.200 ff.)

Ein weiteres Beispiel aus dem Süden Italiens sind die oben erwähnten, professionell Klagenden (prefica / chiagnazzare / preficha). Sie sind Fachleuten der Totenklage, die angeheuert werden, um bei Beerdigungen zu trauern, indem sie die Klage aller anderen „leiten“. Sie zeigten und zeigen den Trauernden einen Weg in der Trauerkrise.2 Ihre Performance, ihre Gesänge, ihre Lautstärke öffnen einen Raum zum Trauern und selbst klagen. Sie bringen eine Seele in die jeweils vorgestellte andere Welt, oft ohne Umweg über das Fegefeuer. Sie sind Animateurin und Medium und schaffen und halten wie die Pflegerinnen der Seelen im Fegefeuer einen laminalen Raum. Die Klagenden schotten die Trauernden gegenüber der Außenwelt ab, in der sie laut und und sichtbar sind.

Im Institut kam die Frage auf, ob wir über Unbekannte trauern können? Ich habe mich gefragt, ob es so etwas wie Unbekannte gibt? Ich denke an die Arbeiten Water Talk (1967) und We are all Water von Yoko Ono.

you are water
I’m water
we’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together

but even after the water’s gone
we’ll probably point out to the contai­ners 
and say, “that’s me there, that one.” 
we’re contai­ner minders

(Yoko Ono, Half-A-Wind Show, Lisson Gallery, London, 1967)

Yoko Ono: We are all Water (2006), hier Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main 2013.

1 Bei Vergil (Publius Vergilius Maro) wird in dem Epos Aeneis ein Teil der Campi Flegrei (Avernischer See) als solcher benannt (29-19 v.u.Z.)
2 Die lokalen Bezeichnungen und Hinweise auf das professionelle Klagen als gegenwärtiges Phänomen sind einem Artikel von Concetta Formissana auf entnommen, einer neapolitanischen regionalen Internetzeitung. (zuletzt geöffnet am 20.03.2023)

Concetta Formissana (2019): Sulle orme di Ernesto De Martino: l’antico mestiere delle “prefiche”, le “chiagnazzare” napoletane. November 2019. (zuletzt geöffnet am 20.03.2023)
Ernesto De Martino (1961): La terra del rimorso. Contributo a una storia religiosa del Sud. Mailand: Il Saggiatore
Ernesto De Martino (2000): Morte e pianto rituale nel mondo antico: dal lamento pagano al pianto di Maria. Erstausgabe 1958. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri
Ernesto De Martino (2002): Sud e magia. Erstausgabe 1959. Mailand: Feltrinelli
Sylvia Wynter (1984): The Ceremony Must Be Found: After Humanism. boundary 2, Vol. 12/13, Vol. 12, no. 3 – Vol. 13, no. 1, On Humanism and the University I: The Discourse of Humanism (Spring – Autumn, 1984), S. 19-70
Sylvia Wynther (2015): The Ceremony Found: towards the autopoetic turn/overturn, its autonomy of Human agency and extraterritoriality of (self-)cognition. In Black Knowledges/ Black Struggles: Essays in Critical Epistemology, (Hg.: Jason Ambroise / Sabine Broeck). Liverpool: University Press.
Anselm Franke, Elisa Guiliano (2022): Ceremony — Burial of an undead world. Ausstellungskatalog zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung HKW (2022), Leipzig: Spector Books



As a natural-born crier, I consider myself an expert in the art of tears. I possess the talent to effortlessly express my emotions through tears. Although my family has accused me of exaggerating, I believe it to be a compliment, as I am able to feel things more deeply than others.

Upon receiving the task from the Crying Institute to develop a new crying material, I was filled with genuine excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to innovate and design new technologies that our world deserves. Initially, I generated a multitude of clever ideas, such as crying paintings, crying cactus, crying cola, etc. Even though it was so much fun during those experiment times, I ended up didn’t proceed with any ideas as they were dull over time.

Except for one day, I realised that in order to invent something truly valuable, I needed to unlearn and then relearn anew!

I put down my ego next to my laptop and pretended to meditate for 3 minutes. Suddenly, an idea struck me: tears contain a three-layered component known as tear film. I then pondered the possibilities of filming tears to see these tear films.

Wow, I was super proud of myself.
Let’s make a film about the tear film then!

Chapter 1: The Tear Tracker

In order to film the tears, I need to create a device that can detect, track and visually record my tears. I made a device by using recycled parts from the electronics lab at the Bauhaus-Universität.

The device is made from the breadboard, wires, LED, camera, resistor, RTC etc.

Due to the complication, I decided to make a short video to show how it look and function.

Chapter 2: The Interface

In simple words, in order to track my tears successfully, I need to put my wonderful creation, the Tear Tracker, inside my eyes. The preferred location is next to the pool of tears where I believe it is the place of tears production.

To show you how to do it, I created an instruction video that contains important steps but yet very simple.

Chapter 3: The Tear Film

Now it comes to the most important part of the journey. I would cry to activate the device and film my tears!

Sadly, it wasn’t that simple.
I couldn’t cry.


Going back a bit to the story of the experiments before Chapter 1.
Even though I didn’t proceed with any of those dulled ideas, I couldn’t avoid the fact that I sacrificed tons of tears in order to test those innovations.

Crying after crying makes me cry for real. I burned out from crying and I cried from being burned out. One day, like today, I woke up and realised that I don’t have any more tears to drain…

I need a new material!


Once upon a time, but around 8 years ago to be precise, my mom moved from our planet to another faraway land. I couldn’t reach her due to signal issues. I miss her every day and that missing energy has been killing me, so I decided not to look at any of her photos. The videos are highly prohibited, maybe because my mind knows I will cry so badly. Well, thanks to the self-defense mechanism. -_-

However, as a professional, the project is more important than my heart. I decided to finally face my fear and step into her old materials in order to complete my new material invention.


In this chapter, you will see the final part of my project. I hope you enjoy my film and my tear film. 🙂


Crying in Motherhood: Collected Stories

Pregnancy and motherhood have been transformative experiences for me that have altered the way I think, feel and react. My initial research into crying and motherhood revealed the hormonal and neurological changes that are contributing factors to this, however social pressure, questions of identity and gender also play a big role. To explore this further I reached out to friends who are also mothers to ask for their stories related to crying in motherhood. Their responses point in many directions: the physical pain and endurance of pregnancy and parenting, stepping into a new identity as ‘Mother’, the bond between mother and child, heartbreak of separation and the joy of growth.

Thank you to all the mothers who contributed stories to this collection.