Mosuo women

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A Yi woman near Lugu Lake. Mosuo woman near Lugu Lake.jpg
A Yi woman near Lugu Lake.
Mosuo girl weaver in old-town Lijiang. Mosuo girl weaver in Old town Lijiang.JPG
Mosuo girl weaver in old-town Lijiang.

The Mosuo (Chinese : 摩梭 ; pinyin :Mósuō) are a small ethnic group living in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China, close to the border with Tibet. Dubbed the 'Kingdom of Women' by the Chinese, [1] :2 the Mosuo population of about 50,000 live near Lugu Lake in the Tibetan Himalayas 27°42′35.30″N100°47′4.04″E / 27.7098056°N 100.7844556°E / 27.7098056; 100.7844556 .


Scholars use diverse terms and spellings to designate the Mosuo culture. Most prefer 'Mosuo' some spell it 'Moso', while a minority use neither term, but refer to them as the Na people.

The Mosuo people are known as the 'Kingdom of Women' because the Na are a matrilineal society: heterosexual activity occurs only by mutual consent and mostly through the custom of the secret nocturnal 'visit'; [2] men and women are free to have multiple partners, [2] and to initiate or break off relationships when they please.[ citation needed ]

The origin of matrilineality and matriarchy


Matrilineal cultures trace descent through the female line. It can also be considered a society in which one identifies with one's mother's lineage including familial lineage or property inheritance.

Matriarchal cultures are run by women. Women hold primary power, predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property at the specific exclusion of men, at least to a large degree.

Technically, Mosuo culture is matrilineal, but many anthropologists classify the Mosuo tribe as a "matriarchal society". [3] The Mosuo themselves sometimes use the term matriarchal to describe their culture in order to bring more tourism and interest into their culture. Mosuo culture does have characteristics of a matriarchal society, in that women are the head of the household, the property is passed down through the female line, and the women make business decisions; yet political power tends to be in the hands of males, [4] disqualifying them from matriarchy status (although, according to one NPR article, there was once a time when the political leaders of Mosuo villages were female [5] ). Nevertheless, some anthropologists, like Peggy Reeves Sanday, determine that societies like Mosuo are in fact matriarchies. They note that, rather than a simple mirror of a patriarchal society, a matriarchy "emphasizes maternal meanings where 'maternal symbols are linked to social practices influencing the lives of both sexes and where women play a central role in these practices'". [6] These scholars thus favour redefining and reintroducing the word matriarchy, especially in reference to modern matrilineal societies like the Mosuo.

Mosuo people Mosuo girls.jpg
Mosuo people

Beginning of Mosuo matrilineality

The Mosuo are a small ethnic group living around China's Lugu Lake in the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. Most Mosuo people celebrate a matrilineal culture, tracing lineage through the female side of the family. [7]

Historically the Mosuo lived in a feudal system where a larger peasant population was controlled by a small nobility. The nobility was afraid of the peasant class gaining power. Since leadership was hereditary, the peasant class was given a matriarchal system. This prevented threats to nobility power by having the peasant class trace lineage through the female line. This system has led to numerous distinct traits among Mosuo society.

Mosuo girls become Mosuo women

A Mosuo girl is considered a woman after she has participated in the coming of age ceremony. This ceremony, observed between the ages of 12 and 14, marks a Mosuo girl's transition to womanhood as well as a Mosuo man's transition into manhood. Here women are introduced to skirts and men to pants.

Prior to the coming of age ceremony, Mosuo children dress the same and are restricted from certain aspects of Mosuo life, namely religious ceremonies.

After the coming of age ceremony, Mosuo women are allowed their own private bedroom within the household in which they live; men are not afforded this advantage.

Mosuo 'marriage'

The Mosuo men practice tisese which translates as walking marriage in Chinese. However, the Mosuo term literally means 'goes back and forth'.

Women have the choice to invite men of interest to their private sleeping room. If the man does not reciprocate this desire, he may simply never visit the woman's household. Men perform tisese in the true sense of the word. They can seek entry into the sleeping chambers of any woman they desire who also desires them. When feelings are reciprocal, a man will be allowed into a woman's private sleeping area. [8] There he will spend the night and walk back to his mother's home in the early morning.[ citation needed ]

Male suitors have been known to commonly descend into a woman's bedding chamber from a designated opening in the ceiling, commonly using a grappling hook, or modern rock climbing apparatus.

Anthropologist Cai Hua termed tisese as 'furtive' or 'closed' visiting, meaning no public acknowledgement or obligations are required between parties. At night Mosuo adults are free to experience sexuality with as many or as few partners as they wish.

Though a Mosuo woman is allowed to change partners whenever she likes, having only one sexual partner is not uncommon. Typically walking marriages are long term. During these unions a woman may become pregnant by the same man multiple times. But when children are born, they become a responsibility of the woman's family. Instead of marrying and sharing family life with spouses, adult Mosuo children remain in extended, multigenerational households with their mother and her blood relatives.

Typical Mosuo home

Mosuo matrilineality is largely based on the woman's role as head of the household. The Mosuo generally live in large extended families with many generations under one roof. Children in a household are taken care of by their mother's family. Their only male influences are their mother's brothers.[ clarification needed ]

Women who have participated in the coming of age ceremony are allotted a private room. Otherwise the typical Mosuo home consists of communal quarters, with no other private bedrooms or living areas.

Mosuo anthropology

Walking marriage vs. monogamous marriage

Anthropologists believe the premodern Mosuo family system has withstood modern Chinese marriage practices (identical to Western monogamous marriages) for many reasons. The practice of walking marriage allows two people to pursue intimacy as equals purely for the sake of satisfaction.

Mosuo family principles challenge some of the world's most popular beliefs about marriage, parenting, and family life. The following are convictions about marriage that scholars, politicians, and citizens from the East and West (including traditional Chinese patriarchy) believe are true of family and kinship: [9]

The Mosuo family life offers an exception that questions these convictions. Traditional Mosuo families value sexuality and romance separate from domesticity, parenting, caretaking, and economic situation. A Mosuo woman's sex life is strictly voluntary and nocturnal while her family life is a daily obligation. [10]

Mosuo culture and female sexual freedom

The practice of tisese allows Mosuo women to avoid the double standard that regulates women's sexuality in other cultures. Women's sexual behaviors are judged equally. Girls and boys alike are raised learning to express sexuality to the same degree. [11]

The traditional Mosuo family and kinship affords women an equality and agency over their sexual and procreative lives that is rare in most cultures. Romantic and sexual unions are governed solely by the woman and man involved. Other family members are unconcerned with the romantic lives of their offspring.

Mosuo women enjoy a freedom from reproductive demands that is unique among modern global cultures.


Though the practice of tisese is a traditional Mosuo practice, today many couples have redefined the term. Many choose to cement their intimate bond through a small ceremony during which, in keeping with the secrecy of nocturnal visits, a representative of the man presents gifts to his lover's kin. [12] After many presents have been given, the ceremony allows a man to openly visit his lover to assist with daily tasks or visit with her household. Still, whenever a man spends the night with a lover, even after such ceremony, he must return to his maternal residence in the morning.


On Lake Lugu Lake Lugu With Moshui-Zu Woman.JPG
On Lake Lugu

The rural area of the Mosuo Lugu Lake has only recently experienced modern developments. When the society became known as the 'Kingdom of Women', tourists began to flock to the area. The Mosuo responded to these visitors by building hotels and other attractions to bring more visitors. Many Mosuo women make a living managing these hotels.

The idea of 'walking marriages' has convinced many visitors that the Mosuo lead a salacious sexual life. It is common for visitors to flirt with the local Mosuo women in an effort to seduce them.

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Related Research Articles

Marriage Culturally recognised union between people

Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a culturally recognised union between people, called spouses, that establishes rights and obligations between them, as well as between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. The definition of marriage varies around the world, not only between cultures and between religions, but also throughout the history of any given culture and religion. Over time, it has expanded and also constricted in terms of who and what is encompassed. Typically, it is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually sexual, are acknowledged or sanctioned. In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity. When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. A marriage ceremony is called a wedding.

Polyandry Mating system in which the female partner may have multiple partners

Polyandry is a form of polygamy in which a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is contrasted with polygyny, involving one male and two or more females. If a marriage involves a plural number of "husbands and wives" participants of each gender, then it can be called polygamy, group or conjoint marriage. In its broadest use, polyandry refers to sexual relations with multiple males within or without marriage.

An incest taboo is any cultural rule or norm that prohibits sexual relations between certain members of the same family, mainly between individuals related by blood. All human cultures have norms that exclude certain close relatives from those considered suitable or permissible sexual or marriage partners, making such relationships taboo. However, different norms exist among cultures as to which blood relations are permissible as sexual partners and which are not. Sexual relations between related persons which are subject to the taboo are called incestuous relationships.

Matriarchy Social system in which women and non-human female animals hold primary power and predominate in roles of leadership and social privilege

Matriarchy is a social system in which females hold the primary power positions in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. While those definitions apply in general English, definitions specific to the disciplines of anthropology and feminism differ in some respects. Most anthropologists hold that there are no known anthropological societies that are unambiguously matriarchal, but some authors believe exceptions may exist currently or may have existed in the past.

Matrilineality is the tracing of kinship through the female line. It may also correlate with a social system in which each person is identified with their matriline – their mother's lineage – and which can involve the inheritance of property and/or titles. A matriline is a line of descent from a female ancestor to a descendant in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers – in other words, a "mother line". In a matrilineal descent system, an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as their mother. This matrilineal descent pattern is in contrast to the more common pattern of patrilineal descent from which a family name is usually derived. The matriline of historical nobility was also called their enatic or uterine ancestry, corresponding to the patrilineal or "agnatic" ancestry.

Mosuo Chinese minority people

The Mosuo, often called the Na among themselves, are a small ethnic group living in Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces in China, close to the border with Tibet. Consisting of a population of approximately 40,000, many of them live in the Yongning region, around Lugu Lake, in Labai, in Muli, and in Yanyuan, located high in the Himalayas.

Nakhi people ethnic group living in parts of China

The Nakhi or Nashi are an ethnic group inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province, as well as the southwestern part of Sichuan Province in China.

Kinship Human relationship term; web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of most humans in most societies; form of social connection

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The avunculate, sometimes called avunculism or avuncularism, is any social institution where a special relationship exists between an uncle and his sisters' children. This relationship can be formal or informal, depending on the society. Early anthropological research focused on the association between the avunculate and matrilineal descent, while later research has expanded to consider the avunculate in general society.

The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture, and can change over time. In general there are two types: civil marriage and religious marriage, and typically marriages employ a combination of both. Marriages between people of differing religions are called interfaith marriages, while marital conversion, a more controversial concept than interfaith marriage, refers to the religious conversion of one partner to the other's religion for sake of satisfying a religious requirement.

<i>Womans Evolution</i> book by Evelyn Reed

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Lugu Lake lake in Sichuan and Yunnan, Peoples Republic of China

Lugu Lake is located in the northwest of the Yunnan plateau, with the middle of the lake forming the border between the Ninglang County of Yunnan Province and the Yanyuan County of Sichuan Province. The formation of the lake is thought to have occurred in a geological fault belonging to the geological age of the Late Cenozoic. It is an alpine lake at an elevation of 2,685 metres (8,809 ft) and is the highest lake in the Yunnan Province. The lake is surrounded by mountains and has five islands, four peninsulas, fourteen bays and seventeen beaches.

Matriarchal religion religion that focuses on a goddess or goddesses

A matriarchal religion is a religion that focuses on a goddess or goddesses. The term is most often used to refer to theories of prehistoric matriarchal religions that were proposed by scholars such as Johann Jakob Bachofen, Jane Ellen Harrison, and Marija Gimbutas, and later popularized by second-wave feminism. In the 20th century, a movement to revive these practices resulted in the Goddess movement.

Heide Göttner-Abendroth is a German feminist advocating Matriarchy Studies, focusing on the study of matriarchal or matrilineal societies.

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Marriage in modern China Modern marriage practices

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A matrifocal family structure is one where mothers head families and fathers play a less important role in the home and in bringing up children.

The Mosuo Sisters is a 2012 documentary film that chronicles the lives of two sisters, Jua Ma and La Tsuo, who are members of one of the last matriarchal societies, the Mosuo tribe. Being an ethnic minority in China, the film explores their journey from working at a bar in Beijing to moving back home to their village in the Himalayas, dealing with the modern world impinging upon the traditional Mosuo culture and way of life.

Matrilineal society of Meghalaya Migration flow in Meghalaya

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  1. Choo, WaiHong (2017). The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love, and Death in China's Hidden Mountains. I.B. Tauris.
  2. 1 2 "VIDEO. Chez les Moso, en Chine, la mère est chef du clan". francetv info (in French). 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2015-11-09.
  3. "Background Facts and Related Links". The Women's Kingdom: In China, How Free Can a Woman Be?. Frontline Rough Cut. PBS. 19 Jul 2005. Retrieved 30 Sep 2018.
  4. "Matriarchal/Matrilineal Culture". Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Project. 2009. Archived from the original on 12 January 2018. Retrieved 30 Sep 2018.
  6. Sanday, Peggy Reeves (2003). Women at the Centre: Life in a Modern Matriarchy. Cornell University Press.
  7. Yuan, Lu; Sam Mitchell (Nov 2000). "Land of the Walking Marriage: For the Mosuo of China, It's a Woman's World" (PDF). Natural History Magazine. pp. 58–65.
  8. Hua, Cai (2001). A Society without Fathers or Husbands: The Na of China. Zone.
  9. Waite, Linda; Maggie Gallagher (2000). The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially. Doubleday.
  10. Stacey, Judith (2009). Unhitching the Horse from the Carriage: Love and Marriage Among the Mosuo (Dissertation). New York University.
  11. Fox, Robin (1984). Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective. Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology 50. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  12. Walsh, Eileen Rose (2005). "From Nü Guo to Nü'er Guo: Negotiating Desire in the Land of the Mosuo". Modern China. 31 (4): 448–486. doi:10.1177/0097700405279243.

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