Exile from a women's realm yearns for return to the simple life

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 March, 2006, 12:00am


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Can you tell us something about Mosuo people?

Our home is by the Lake Lugu, where Sichuan meets Yunnan. About 40,000 to 50,000 Mosuo people live there. Our clothing looks exactly like the Mongolians', our two main religions are the same as the Naxi and the Tibetans, our written characters come from Tibetan script and yet we have our own spoken language. Our origins are still a mystery.

Are the Mosuo one of the few minorities still sticking to a matrilineal society?

Yes, we still follow our 'visiting marriage' tradition, which is when a couple does not live together but stays in their original homes. A man goes to his lover's place at night and leaves in the morning. Children are raised by their mother and uncles, and the women take care of all the housework and farming.

What did you do at home and why did you come to Beijing?

I used to work as a farmer and was a member of a horse caravan. A friend came to Beijing before me and organised my arrival. He felt quite lonely and wanted me to join him. He told me a lot of advantages of city living. It took three days to travel to Beijing by train, and I started feeling homesick halfway through the trip.

How's life been for you in Beijing?

My first job was as a salesman in a bookstore. About a year ago, a friend invited me to join him to open a Mosuo-themed restaurant, so I did a cooking course. It was really hard to find a proper place [to open the restaurant] so I got a job at a Sichuan-style restaurant where I am the only Mosuo cook. The boss is interested in promoting Mosuo cuisine but he is also afraid of the business risk. Now we only serve a couple of Mosuo dishes, and the most popular one is chicken hotpot.

What's the difference between life in Beijing and your home town?

Life is really complicated here. Even in a small restaurant like ours, people secretly compete with each other. I was warned not to trust anyone - something unimaginable at home. The two places also have a very different perception of time. When I watch the crowds on the streets of Beijing, I wonder why city people are so busy. At our place, the sun is our clock: we get up as the sun rises and we go to bed as the sun sets. In many respects, I prefer the simple Mosuo way of life. Especially because there is no pressure on Mosuo men. If I married a Han girl, I would have to send her a lot of expensive gifts, right?

Have you abandoned Mosuo customs to adapt to city life?

When in Rome do as the Romans do. We have to follow some rules, just like other people. But there are some things we will not do. For example, if a friend suggests having a wedding ceremony in Beijing, we won't accept the idea. The Mosuo way is much simpler, and we usually don't hold any ceremony until the couple's first child is one month old.

What are your plans for the future?

My dream is to own a restaurant featuring Mosuo culture, with our traditional decor, food, dancing and singing. This might be hard to achieve, though. Now my girlfriend also works in this restaurant as a waitress. We have known each other since our childhood and we were engaged years ago at home. She followed me to Beijing because she was quite anxious about my life here. We will see what we can do in Beijing. But I believe we will go back to Lake Lugu to settle down.

What are things like there today?

Lake Lugu has changed a lot since it became a popular tourist resort. Originally, the government planned to maintain the simple lifestyle but so many tourists and businesspeople came into the area when the roads reached our village. There are not many young Mosuo people leaving and going on adventures like me. Many are still illiterate because many families in the poor area don't focus much on education.