Among world’s last ma­tri­lin­eal so­ci­eties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By CHINA DAILY

The Mo­suo peo­ple, who live near Lugu Lake in South­west China’s Yun­nan prov­ince, are among the last ma­tri­lin­eal so­ci­eties on Earth. Women are in charge of ev­ery­thing from house­work and look­ing af­ter the live­stock to mak­ing eco­nomic de­ci­sions and choos­ing lovers.

New­borns in­herit the names of their moth­ers, not their fa­thers. Births of baby girls are cel­e­brated more than baby boys.

“It so in­trigued me that I stayed,” Choo Wai­hong told an au­di­ence in Bei­jing last Thurs­day. “I lived among them and I made friends.”

Choo’s ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing with mem­bers of the Mo­suo peo­ple for six years is recorded in her book, The King­dom of Women.

Hsiao-Hung Pai, a Bri­tain­based jour­nal­ist calls the book “a re­fresh­ing and au­then­tic por­trait of a hid­den so­ci­ety in pa­tri­ar­chal China”.

“At its heart, this is the story of what that ex­pe­ri­ence did to Choo’s at­ti­tude to her own cul­ture as she ex­plored the cus­toms, habits and be­liefs of her new friends,” an ear­lier Guardian book re­view said.

The Mo­suo peo­ple have 40,000 mem­bers and they can trace their an­ces­try in the area to as early as the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-AD 220).

“When you meet with Mo­suo women, you will find that they are very self-con­fi­dent,” Choo says. “They walk, they sit, they speak proudly and very self-as­suredly.”

Choo is a Sin­ga­porean of Chinese de­scent. She was a cor­po­rate lawyer in Sin­ga­pore and Cal­i­for­nia be­fore re­tir­ing early in 2006 to travel around China.

Choo first learned about the Mo­suo peo­ple when read­ing an ar­ti­cle in a mag­a­zine about their fes­ti­val in honor of the moun­tain god­dess.

She stayed among the Mo­suo peo­ple, spending six months ev­ery year with them for six years.

Choo sees the Mo­suo’s women-cen­tric life as a priv­i­lege.

In a Mo­suo fam­ily, the grand­mother is the head of the house­hold. All oth­ers liv­ing in the fam­ily be­long to her ma­tri­lin­eal blood­line.

Mo­suo women do not live with their hus­bands. Tra­di­tion­ally, the Mo­suo peo­ple do not even have the con­cept of hus­band or wife. They prac­tice “walk­ing mar­riages”, also called “vis­it­ing mar­riages”.

Choo de­scribes a mar­riage in her book, in which a man liv­ing with his ex­tended fam­ily vis­its a woman in the evening, and they spend the night to­gether in the woman’s “flower cham­ber,” which is a room ev­ery adult daugh­ter in a fam­ily has.

Be­fore sun­rise, the man needs to re­turn to his own home.

When Choo re­flects on Mo­suo cul­ture, she con­stantly com­pares it with her own cul­ture.

She thinks the “walk­ing mar­riage” of the Mo­suo peo­ple is revo­lu­tion­ary in con­trast with the tra­di­tional Han val­ues of her fam­ily, and her pa­tri­ar­chal fa­ther.

“He re­ally be­lieved he was the lord of our home,” Choo says of her fa­ther. “He felt he had the right to have sec­ond wives all over the place.”

Her mother, on the other hand, was al­lowed no right to have other lovers, and was ex­pected to be the for­giv­ing wife.

“The way of Mo­suo so­ci­ety is there is no rule you must stay

When you meet with Mo­suo women, you will find that they are very self-con­fi­dent.” Choo Wai­hong, au­thor of The King­do­mofWomen

with only one lover,” Choo says. “No­body ap­proves or dis­ap­proves of any choices you make.”

It is the same for both men and women.

“Sex is not just a pro­pri­etary thing. Just be­cause you and I have sex doesn’t mean I be­long to you ex­clu­sively, and you don’t be­long to me ex­clu­sively,” Choo says. “I don’t be­long to you as prop­erty. No woman is the prop­erty of a man in Mo­suo so­ci­ety.”

Since the past 15 years, the unique tra­di­tions of the Mo­suo peo­ple have been ad­ver­tised to at­tract tourists to that area in Yu­nan, and Choo has no­ticed the in­flu­ence of tourism on Mo­suo cul­ture.

“It is very true that tourism has in­vaded Lugu Lake and the Mo­suo tribe,” she says. “For the Mo­suo, if you are in­cluded in the tourism econ­omy, you make money.”

More and more Mo­suo peo­ple are be­com­ing waiters, wait­resses, chefs or driv­ers to serve tourists.

Ed­u­ca­tion and en­ter­tain­ment also play a role on chang­ing young Mo­suo peo­ple.

“Now ev­ery home has a TV, so they are ex­posed to the out­side world,” Choo says.

The ex­po­sure was shown in one of the pho­to­graphs by Choo dur­ing her talk in Bei­jing, which shows a Mo­suo man hold­ing a bright yel­low smart­phone.

Young Mo­suo peo­ple are be­gin­ning to think that they do not want to prac­tice the Mo­suo way of love.

“My young friends in their 20s are get­ting mar­ried,” Choo says.

Choo con­sid­ers the grad­ual loss of Mo­suo tra­di­tions as un­for­tu­nate, be­cause they rep­re­sent al­ter­na­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“What we can learn from them is that it’s pos­si­ble to have a women-cen­tric so­ci­ety and the world doesn’t come to an end,” Choo says.

Zhou Yi­fan con­trib­uted to this story.


Choo Wai­hong’s ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing with the Mo­suo peo­ple for six years is recorded in her book, TheKing­do­mofWomen.

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