Accepted Paper:

Proposing primary cultural underpinnings of Mosuo society in Yongning basin, Yunnan province  


Kiersten Warning (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Paper short abstract:

Based upon ethnographic research over a five-year period (2009-2014), this paper briefly explores some cultural underpinnings within political, religious, economic, and kinship practices that have anchored Mosuo matricultural society in Yongning Basin.

Paper long abstract:

Since c. 630 C.E., Mosuo society in Yongning Basin, Yunnan Province, has exhibited societal practices that indicate valuing women as least as equally as men. While many writers romanticize, glorify, and even invent a Mosuo "matriarchal" society, a closer reading of the Mosuo's history and recent ethnographic experience suggest the presence of cultural underpinnings that anchor a broader matriculture instead, one in which flexible forms of religion, kinship, livelihood strategies, and politics have worked for centuries to uphold economic systems with women at the center. This paper will briefly discuss how the Basin has maintained cultural autonomy beyond its last native ruler in 1956 C.E., even as their relatives, the Naxi, succumbed to central cultural integration around 1723 C.E. and the Mosuo were more recently subordinated to their former rivals, the endogamous, patriarchal Yi.

Discussion will then turn to a second important cultural underpinning of Yongning's Mosuo society: the successful integration of Tibetan (Tantric) Buddhism, daba shamanism, and the worship of Gemu Goddess of Lion Mountain. The Yongning-specific use of imagery and household practice within these three spiritual traditions affirm the value of both women and men and helps constitute the cultural underpinning of placing primacy on the household as the center of societal organization. Finally, recent ethnographic data suggests that sisters and brothers continue to work together in flexible kinship patterns to chart their futures in the midst of changing physical, economic, and social landscapes.

Panel RM-KG04
Naxi and Mosuo peoples in China and their Eastern Asian Neighbors