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A fascinating look inside China's last matriarchy: the land where women reign

A fascinating look inside China's last matriarchy: the land where women reign

In this community, women are treated as equal or even superior to men and may choose and change as many, or as few, sexual partners as they wish without fearing judgment. 

Set in the far eastern foothills of the Himalayas, at the edge of the lush, expansive Luga Lake is a society without fathers, marriages (or divorces), and nuclear families. While the rest of the world continues to debate gender equality even in 2020, the ancient tribal community of the Mosuo has been living in a surprisingly progressive way for as long as they can remember. In their picturesque community – a series of villages dotted around a mountain and Lugu Lake – women are treated as equal or even superior to men and may choose and change as many, or as few, sexual partners as they wish without fearing judgment. 



 

Believed to be one of the last semi-matriarchal societies in the world, the tribal community of Tibetan Buddhists follows the maternal bloodline wherein Mosuo children "belong" only to their mothers, reports The Guardian. The young are brought up by their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and uncles, who live in their matriarchal family home their whole life. While one viewing through a Western cultural lens might condemn them as a society of single mothers, to the Mosuo, marriage is an inconceivable and perhaps pointless concept as their social structure pays no heed to fatherhood.



 

The community practices what is known as a "walking marriage" system which dictates that the Mosuo women's partners only visit them at night and play little to no part in their children's upbringing. The relationship between a man and a woman could be as short-lived as a one-night stand or grow into an exclusive, life-long partnership. "For the Mosuo, it's only the heart and love and passion they feel, and if they don’t feel it anymore they can stop the relationship and it's no big drama. The feeling of butterflies in the belly is more important than staying together," photographer Karolin Klüppel, who spent time documenting the Mosuo, told the National Geographic.



 

While women own and inherit property, sow crops, and handle all the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing in this agrarian society, the men provide strength, plowing, building, repairing homes, slaughtering animals. Although the men do help with big familial decisions, the final say is always with the eldest woman in the household. Despite being free of any paternal responsibilities towards their own offsprings, Mosuo men bear considerable responsibility as uncles to their sisters' children. "Mosuo men are feminists by any standards," said Choo Waihong, a successful corporate lawyer from Singapore who put down roots in the community after being enthralled by the community.



 

"Boys think nothing of looking after their baby sisters or taking their toddler brothers by the hand everywhere. I was once made to wait before talking business with an elderly Mosuo man until he had bathed his family's twin baby girls and changed their nappies," she revealed. "All Mosuo women are, essentially, single. But I think I'm seen as an oddity because I'm not from here, and I live alone, rather than with a family. I get a lot of dinner invitations, and my friends are always egging me on to find a nice Mosuo lover."



 

However, this ancient tribe with surprisingly "modern" values has been going through a lot of changes in recent years. With tourists flooding in to observe their unique social structure, many young Mosuo now consider their traditional way of life outdated. They crave a different path from their parents; one with "western" marriages and nuclear families. Yet, Waihong holds hope that the community will prevail. "I think their traditional family structure may come to be seen as halcyon, once they see what the alternative is," she said. "They were the original trendsetters, 2,000 years ago; they don’t know how good they have it."



 

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