21 September 2010

Women Did It Better: The Mosuo Tribe of China

By Jeannie Lin

In Greek tradition, the Amazons were a tribe of warrior women who were known to be as fierce as any man. In China, however, the Kingdom of Women is a much more peaceful society. The Mosuo tribe is one of the many ethnic minorities of China and also one of the matriarchal societies that continues to exist to this day.

The Mosuo live in the Lugu Lake region in the southern part of China between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Their matriarchal tradition goes back over two thousand years.

The society is organized by family into households which are lead by a matriarch. Couples engage in what are called "walking marriages," which are relationships held together only by a mutual affection and not other vows or bonds.

The woman holds the power in the walking marriage as her lover is expected to visit her in her own home by going to her private bed chamber. He is then expected to leave early the next morning. She can terminate the relationship by simply leaving the door closed. Also if there are any children from the union, they belong to the woman's family. However, it's quite common for a couple to fall in love in which case, a woman will see only her one partner. The bond is one of choice rather than law.

Men in this society continue to live in their mother's or the matriarch of the family's home. He cannot claim any of the material wealth of his children as they belong to their mother's family just as he does to his. In old age, men are taken care of by the children of their sister--not his own children.

Isolated around Lugu Lake, the Mosuo have been able to preserve their culture which is reportedly free of issues of prostitution or rape. There is no strife caused by divorce or infidelity as women can end the walking marriages at any time.

An interesting documentary titled The Kingdom of Women was filmed about the way of life of the Mosuo and how the culture is changing in modern times.

2 comments:

Julie said...

I remember studying (and watching that documentary) on the Mosuo in one of my courses. Mostly I remember being amazed that there existed a matriarchy in China. It's impressive that their way of life has survived for so long, but I can't see it staying quite the same for very long, unfortunately.

Jeannie Lin said...

The documentary had me completely fascinated. I read some comments which indicated that the new attention and tourism sparked by the documentary is convincing the Mosuo that there's some value to their way of life.