Recent Research Conducted on My Visit to the Matriarchal Society of Moso (–€žˆ), Naxi Tribe (”[Ό‘°) in China's Yunnan Provincei‰_“μΘj

@     In January 7, 2000, we arrived at Ning Lang's Lake Lu Gu (”J˜QAΰhŸ˜ŒΞ) (Picture 1-1 & 1-2) after driving for one day from Li Jiang (—ν]) of Yunnan Province (‰_“μΘ). Lake Lu Gu (ΰhŸ˜ŒΞ) is 25 kilometers round and is a beautiful lake of mystery and ancient legend. Moso (–€žˆ) has a population of about 10,000, and is generally grouped into one of the Naxi (”[Ό) tribes with a population of about 300,000. However, the Mosoi–€žˆjpeople call themselves the Moso (–€žˆ) tribe, claiming that they are an indigenous to the area. There is a signboard at the entrance of the village, saying Welcome to women's country (—™X‘). Such is the way they refer to their own community.

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    The guidebook says that the village youths in traditional folk costume will give singing and dancing shows around the bonfire on the lakeside. When we visited there, it was very cold and there were few other tourists. Our guide said that unless we pay some additional fare, there would be no show. The members of the audience would have been much smaller than the performers. Fearing it would not be clear as to who were the spectators and who were the show, we declined.

Yunnan2S.jpg (16215 bytes)     The next morning I asked our guide to show me to as many homes as possible. We visited five family heads: A (35), B(56), C(67), D(56) and E(70) (Picture 2). The following observations are taken from interviews of those five families.

    One family used to have about 30 members, but these days, the national population policy restricts the number of children and minorities have gone along with it. Two children are allowed for city dwelling families and three for farm villages. This has resulted in a drop in the number of children. The largest family we visited this time had 10 members and the smallest one had 4 (Note 1).

    The house is big enough to accommodate a large family. The courtyard, wide enough to use as a grain-drying area, is surrounded by four houses. They are the main house, the house for grown-up daughters, the house for guests, and the house for storing farming tools, firewood and keeping domestic animals. When the daughters grow up, they are given a room in the house separate from their mother. If a man comes to make love to a daughter of the house and she accepts, he can visit her room without family members taking notice. That is called zouhun(‘–₯), a visiting marriage, and the man is called A Du(ˆ’“s), the woman, A Xia (ˆ’‰Δ) (Note 2).

    Of course, not all of the people in the village practice zouhun (‘–₯). There are three forms of marriage observed by the people in this village: (1) zouhun (‘–₯), (2) the marriage of one husband and one wife, and (3) the marriage that began originally as zouhun (‘–₯) and later became independent marriage. This time, I asked 10 Moso (–€žˆ) people about their 30 family members, and found that 15 persons fall under the first category, six persons under the second and one person under the third. The remaining 8 persons were not married. As a marriage form, the zouhun (‘–₯) accounted for an overwhelming majority.


1. How is the zouhuni‘–₯jpracticed?

Yunnan3S.jpg (9890 bytes)     In the case of A (35), the woman made acquaintance with a man who was introduced by her friend. After dating him several times, she found the man to be agreeable and they fell in love. Zouhun (‘–₯) took place when she was 22DAt first, she kept her A Du (ˆ’“s) a secret. The man visited her room quietly so as not to attract the attention of her family. At the point that she was five-months pregnant, her mother learned of the situation and asked the daughter about her lover. She told her mother about him in detail although at first she had not been willing to confess. After that her A Du (ˆ’“s) came to visit the main house. When he first visited he brought a lot of gifts and souvenirs and offered them on the sacred ancestral altar of daughter's family (Picture 3). The family entertained him with good dishes in return for his kindness. One month after the child was born, the family invited relatives and village elders to an assembly where A Du (ˆ’“s) was introduced as the father of the newest member of the community.

    In the case of A's younger sister (21), the situation is a little different. When she was 19 years old, her lover called on her family to pay his respects with souvenirs. Her family told him that since she was too young to get married, he should wait for a more suitable time. Nevertheless, he seemed to have started zouhun (‘–₯) despite that and she gave birth to a boy at the age of 20.

    B (56) met her man while working as a production laborer. After having kept company with him for some time, he came to visit her room. At first, she kept that secret from her family, but before long the matter was found out. When their child became one month old, it and its father were introduced to the community. Thereafter, he came to visit the main house.

    I asked C (56) if she felt anxiety when her A Du (ˆ’“s) did not visit her. Though sunlight streamed into the room where we conducted the interview, there was something gloomy about the place. C looked up at the bright opening in the ceiling where bits of pine tree bark were arranged. She answered that she did not feel lonely because she believed her lover would come down to her room from that bright place. It sounded so romantic. She added that a Moso (–€žˆ) woman will wait for as long as she must so that she can see her A Du (ˆ’“s) in her best condition when he comes. Carelessly I asked if she feared her A Du (ˆ’“s) might go to another woman who is unbound and waiting. She replied that if he has gone to other woman, she cannot help it because it is his own choice. It was a fine answer for its purity and frankness.

    The guide F (21) said too, that if her lover changes his mind and has gone to another woman, she would like to finish her relationship with her first lover and then start a relationship with a different man. On the side of woman, if her lover has lost his interest in her, she should accept it and not be attached to him any longer. If he wants to finish his relationship with her, she should give up. She would sing a song at the lake to dispel her grief and feel refreshed. She would think it very shameful to run unreasonably after such a lover. She would change her mind and hope she would come across another good man. That was a good answer, which is pure and frank.

    The guide continued to speak her belief. When waiting for her lover A Duiˆ’“sjand feeling lonely, the woman may possibly be inclined to love another man. If the former lover enters the room when she is with a new one, the former lover would leave her believing she had loved the other man. He would never get in a rivalry with her new lover.

    However, there would be some men who take love lightly and would love more than one woman at the same time. For all that, it would still be rare for him to be socially punished.

    In any society there may be such fickle men or women. There is a person who tells about them in a very amusing and exaggerated way. The book Dong Ba Wen Zi (“Œ”b•ΆŽš)iMarch, 1996jwritten by Wang Chao Ying (‰€’΄‘ι) mentions it on page 56: It is not uncommon for one woman to make love with as many as 100 men during her lifetime. As a result, even if a child's father cannot be specified, no one minds a bit.

    Sex tours comprised of men who believe such descriptions and imagine the community as a place for free sex place are treated with disdain by the villagers.

    The visiting man stays in the woman's room only during the night and returns to his home to work. The guide said that the Moso man is traditionally so shy that he does not like to be seen by his family when going to or coming back from his lover's room. Therefore, he visits her room late at night after his family goes to sleep, and returns home early in the morning.

    Can they make a date in the daytime? I asked the guide F. She said that the Moso people would not show in public that they love each other and would conduct themselves as mere acquaintances. No matter how much they might love each other at night, they do not bear themselves as lovers in the daytime.

    Don't you want to be with your lover all the time? I asked D (56) and A (35). D said that she likes the present situation because both her home and his are harmonious. A also said that they need not live together because it is best for him to live in his home.

    After hearing only happy stories, I felt inclined to know any bad ones there might be. I asked F, If you did not have a chance to come across a man to love, that is, if there were no zouhun (‘–₯), what would you do?

    F said that she knew a Moso woman of about 40 who was not engaged in zouhun, but those around her neither teased nor looked down on her because of having no men to love. Everyone thinks that she only has had no chance for that, and never looks upon her coldly. She never feels lonely because she lives with her family. She lives as she is. It is also a perfect answer.

    D (56) also told me naturally that her younger brother was 50 years old, but he was not been engaged in zouhun because he found no woman to love .


2. Who will bring up such a child that was born by zouhun (‘–₯)?

    The child is brought up by all of woman's family as their new family member. At this time, Jiu Jiu iδnXj, uncle, i.e. but specifically the mother's brother is most responsible for educating the child. He teaches the child about the difference between right and wrong, their social rules and so on. The children are most fearful of their Jiu Jiu, who firmly teach morals to the children morals. There is neither thief nor pickpocket in the village, and no house is ever locked up for the night.

    The visiting A Duiˆ’“s) is never concerned with bringing up and educating the children born between his A Xiaiˆ’‰Δ) and himself, but under these circumstances he will bring up his sisters' children instead of his own.

    I asked A if she has a chance to discuss children's education with their father, and she answered that it is not necessary to do so in particular, because children's matters are usually discussed among her family. B's daughter has two children, 4 and 2 years old respectively. She did not go to school, but she wants them to have much education. However, she does not discuss the children's education with their father at all, she said. C's eldest daughter has two sons. One son went to India to be a Lama priest, and another son studies at a college in Kunmingi©–Ύj. She does feel lonely without the children at home, but she endures it for their good. She had never consulted her A Duiˆ’“sjabout the sons' matters. They decided on their future course by themselves. I asked D, too, if she wanted to have any support from their children's father, and she said that she did not dare desire it, although she would have accepted his help if he offered it. She educated her children by herself. One son graduated from middle school only, but she was proud that another son studies at a college in Kunmingi©–Ύj.

    In this village every child knows who his or her father is, but if the father comes to see his child, the child calls him Jiu JiuiδnX) instead of Papa. When any child from a poor home wants to go to college, all his neighbors and relatives will support that child through college. Lamaism is very popular in this village, and if a boy wants to be a Lamaist, they will also pay money for him to go to India for study. If they have a child who wants to be a Lamaist or go to college, they think it is an honor for them. They are intensely conscious of children being of home and of their village.


3. The roles of the head of family

    The head of any house is a woman. The woman who works most and is good at managing her household is chosen to be the head of the family, not necessarily the eldest daughter at all. She is proud of having been chosen to be the head, and devotes herself to household management for the prosperity of her family. The roles of the family head are to manage household accounts, to educate children, to take care of food and clothing, and to breed cattle. The villagers occupation is mainly farming, but these days the sightseeing business is popular. Some of the families doing sightseeing business enjoy an annual income of anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 yuaniŒ³j. This village looks rather rich for a farm village in China. I hear that the percentage of families here with children studying at colleges is higher than those of other minority tribes.

    Rice and vegetables are grown for food and domestic cattle are raised. C (67) said that they kill pigs twice a year for making smoked meat to eat throughout the year. The wood-burning stove is used for cooking and providing heat. Pork is smoked right there suspended from the ceiling.

    As for a cash income for household accounts, men of the family earn money by being engaged in the sightseeing business. On the other hand, women work hard doing farm work, feeding the cattle, and gathering firewood. Their earning power is less than that of men.

    The men give the money earned to the family head who in turn leaves them with pocket money. The head discusses the large amount of money to spend with the whole family, but usually money management is entrusted to her.

    A (35) recently took over household accounts from her mother, and she has much work to do, but does not think she has trouble because men also go out to work for their family. At the time of the Chinese New Year known as Chun Jieitίj, all of them come back home. Last spring 27 men returned. She told me about the responsibility and pride of being the family head, who is respected by those around for taking the admirable responsibility of making her family happy by keeping it prosperous.


4. Which is better, zouhuni‘–₯jor ordinary marriage?

    When I asked some villagers about their sons or daughters concerning the form of marriage, many of them answered that their sons living in the city are married. After graduating from college and getting a job in the city, most of them do not return to the village. They usually get married with whomever lover they might happen to meet in the city.

    C is daughter became a teacher and has fallen in love with her colleague. If he is not Mosoi–€žˆj, they will take the form of ordinary marriage. If so, she will accept it, she said.

    In the case of D's younger brother P, while working in Li Jiangi—ν]j, he fell in love with a Naxi (”[Ό) girl, and got married with her because Naxi has no such customs as zouhuni‘–₯j. However, he prefers zouhun to ordinary marriage for his 17-year-old daughter. Being at her father's side when he said this, she said she thought so, too.

    A (35) said she also preferred zouhun. In that case, since neither land nor property is divided, they would not be reduced. She added that there is no conflict between the wife and her mother-in-law or sisters-in-law, giving no mental stress.

    E (70) said that in the case of zouhun, as each man goes back to his home, there is no trouble with the woman is family. That makes it preferable. In the case of marriage, husband and wife are on very happy terms with each other for the first year, but entering into the second year, they often quarrel with each other over trivial matters. In the case of the Han Chinese (ŠΏ‘°), if there are two brothers in the family, it will be divided into two households by marriage, and if there are three brothers, then three households, and so on. The head family's wealth will thereby be reduced through marriage, but zouhun would not reduce family property. Moreover, Han Chinese families take a wife and give their daughters away in marriage, resulting in much worry for their parents. For instance, a sonΥs mother does not like his wife, but her son takes sides with his wife against his mother, thus resulting in tears for the mother. On the contrary, Moso people said that they have no such troubles, and everyone had words of criticism for the Han version of marriage.

    The guide F(21) mentioned that both ordinary marriage and zouhun have their respective merits and demerits. In the case of zouhun, the whole family can remain together indefinitely, and if a child is born, its motherΥs family will take care of it, thus enabling the mother to can keep her mind on her work. On the other hand, in the case of the ordinary marriage, the wife can be with her beloved husband all the time. If anything happens, the wife and husband will discuss together to decide themselves. In the Moso family, as they must consider how matters influence all of the family, it is sometimes troublesome for them. Moso's zouhun is practiced by the pure love of man and woman. In the case of other tribes, there is some impure marriage, such as that for getting property, maintaining property or continuing the household. On the contrary, in Moso family, there is no change of house and property by zouhun, and therefore, zouhun is not practiced for property gain. The man visits his lover only when he really wants to see her, and as she expects to see him, they can love each other under the most favorable conditions.

    As described above, zouhuni‘–₯jhas many advantages to it, so it is not likely to be extinguished from the village for quite some time.


5. How do men think about the custom of zouhuni‘–₯j?

    We are used to seeing men seize power in societies around the world. Therefore, it is tempting to ask if men in Moso also want to seize power in their home.

    First of all, I asked A (35) if men do not want to seize power in their home, and she said that we cannot think of such a thing. I do not want my A Du (ˆ’“s) to live together in her home. He lives in his home, and the person who has authority is his own mother or grandmother, and so he has nothing to complain of even if being under her authority. When deciding on an important matter such as building a house, all of the family including men discuss the matter together. A added that women are said to be stronger than men in Moso, but in fact, men and women are equal.

    I talked to P, a younger brother of C (67). His wife had already died, and if he wantedto do zouhun (‘–₯), he would be able to do so, and had his lover, but he would not do zouhun for the sake of his daughter. He said that he was teaching her daughter so as to be a good family head. I asked him if he himself wanted to be the head, and he replied that he did not mind if anyone in the family became the head as long as his house prospers and household accounts are well managed, and as a woman is most suitable for managing household accounts, a woman should become the family head. It is when building a house or so that men can display their ability. His household economy is decided upon discussion with his mother. He seldom had any disagreement with her in such a case. Under the circumstances, he looked to have no dissatisfaction in the least with the current way that his family should be.


6. Household accounts

    B (56)'s household accounts are maintained by her family income from tourism and farming. Horseback tours are the main tourist industry. The village men are engaged in the business by rotation. Men from each house work for the business once a week. Farm crops are Si Ji Dou (Žl‹G“€) (a kind of bean), potatoes and com (?) Domestic animals are bred only for family consumption. B's two sons are engaged in tourism, and they give their earnings to the family head after keeping a certain amount for their own necessary use.

    C's household income is mainly from tourism, and her family income has come to be over 10,000 yuan (Œ³) since the national policy of reforms and liberation was implemented. C's family used to earn money from breeding pigs and chickens.

    Nowadays, they can afford to pay college expenses for her son. If they run short of money for the expenses, they will borrow money from their neighbors or other villagers because it is common for the villagers to help each other.

    D's family income is about 20,000 yuan in total from tourism, transportation (using their own cars) and a retail shop. Their expenditures are decided after discussion with her family. They can easily afford to pay about 4,000 yuan for the annual education expenses for their child studying at a college in Kunming (©–Ύ).

    E's family income is earned from selling their domestic animals and renting a private house providing bed and meals at 105,000 yuan per three years. They plan to run that house by themselves in the future because it is more profitable than just renting it to others. She said her family had savings of tens of thousands yuan at that time.

Yunnan4S.jpg (20694 bytes)     Nowadays, every house in this village earns tens of thousands yuan, which makes the village richer than average Chinese farm villages. While walking in the city, I noticed several new houses and extensions were under construction, suggesting more accommadations were in the works for the coming sightseeing season (Picture 4).


7. The story by the King of "Nu Er Guo" (—™X‘), Country of Women

    The king of the Country of Women has no real power as a king since it is not a real country, but she may be symbolic for her village. Of course, this king is a woman, but she is called "King" instead of "Queen", reflecting a maternal society. I heard that the "Queen" was originally a man, but for various reasons, a woman irregularly becomes King, which means a temporary and exceptional female king. However, here in Moso (–€žˆ), to begin with, because it is a women's country "Nu Er Guo" (—™X‘) , it is not strange at all that a woman is called "King". On the other hand, if a man becomes King, it means that he must be called a "male king".

    I asked E (70) for what reasons she thought were chosen for becoming King. She mentioned that the character of a king is frank, and if she wants to talk, she talks of anything. But if she does not talk, she says nothing, and is regarded as honest and wise, possessing an opinion of her own. She judged herself like this for me. As for duties to perform as King, she gives advice to villagers when they are in trouble or worried about something.

    I asked what kind of troubles villagers have, and she replied that in this women's country, men are not good at managing money. Therefore, a family with many men could not prosper. As men spend money on tobacco and alcohol, a family with men is usually poor. She built a fine house for herself and her daughter. (The house has a big courtyard with rooms on all sides, and except for the main and daughter's rooms, the rooms are used for accommodating sightseers.) However, a family with many men cannot ever build a house. Men usually come to ask for her advice on the problems of tobacco, alcohol, mah-jongg gambling and so on.

    I asked her if the family head cannot control such men who are not good at managing money. She said that when they are at home, they are obedient to the family head; but once they go out, being free, they are apt to compete with each other. In the house, a man works hard as an uncle Jiu JiuiδnX) once out and about, however, he cannot control himself. As a man has a weak sense of responsibility and cannot become a family head. He makes a fortune for his family and his power is necessary for maintaining his house, but he cannot control money well.

    She added that some are good, as she seemed to have thought that she had spoke ill of men too much. If you replace men with women, such a situation would be entirely the same in a certain society like Japan.

    The King of the Nu Er Guo (—™X‘) tells us about the present situation of her country as follows:

    This village "Luo Shui Cun" (—Ž…‘Ί) has 77 households consisting of 500 Moso plus a small number of non-Moso. There used to be only 20 to 30 Moso households, but their numbers are now increasing rapidly. There used to be only two households of Han Chinese, but their number is now 30 at present since they divide their houses by marriage.

    Mosos are of a large family, and more children go to college than those of Han Chinese because they are supported by the large family.

    Since an airport was built in Li Jiang (—ν]), tourists have increased. As many as 3,000 people visit the village per day in summer. Private houses can accommodate up to 1,000 people a day.

    To prevent pollution and to preserve the natural beauty of the lake as a prime tourist site,no motorized boats are allowed.

    This time I visited the village I wondered how pervasive and destructive the influence of the Han Chinese would be on this maternal society where contacts with external influences have increased markedly. After these interviews I am now confident that the society will survive for some time to come completely on its own terms, not only because the villagers are proud of who they are and how they live, but because it is economically advantageous for them to adhere to their old ways.

    A maternal society such as the Moso deserves publicity since the world's societies are so overwhelmingly dominated by men. I eagerly wish for the Moso to grow and prosper more as an embodiment and example of maternal society's finer attributes.

    Note 1. According to a taxi driver in Kunming, even minority tribes are restricted to having only one child in a big city like Kunming.

    Note 2. Both the man and woman in this case are called "A Zhu (ˆ’’) and the resultant marriage is called "A Zhu Hun" (ˆ’’₯) according to such sources as "Research and Study on Ways of Living and Architecture in the Maternal Society of Yunnan's Naxi(1), (2).

    From what I can discern, "A Zhu" (ˆ’’) is a common name for a friend in general, and the man and woman in zouhun are not called so.


Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001 Orie Endo.