The Moso

Name: Moso, Mosuo, Na, Nari

Population: 38,000

Localization: Yunnan Province, Lijiang Prefecture, Ninglang Yi Autonomous County, and Sichuan Province, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Muli and Yanyian counties.

The Moso (Mosuo) people are one of the most famous of the Chinese Ethnic Groups. Their matriarchal system led them to the pages of the most important newspapers and magazines, and to the main TV channels. Though thousand of tourists travel every year to the famous Lugu Lake, the center of their ancestral territory, very few get a glimpse of their true culture.

Basic Facts about Moso Culture

Introductory Articles in Ethnic China

The Moso and their Goddesses: The Moso believe in numerous goddesses and gods. For them most phenomena of nature have their.

The archaic Bisha shaman: The bicha shamans worship the ancestors, specially the first ancestress of the Moso, Zehongjijimi, they are clearly related to their matriarchal clan society, with their range of action usually restricted to the clan they belong.

Joseph Rock and the History of the Bon religion among the Moso: In Yongning the primitive Bon has barely survived and I was privileged to witness ceremonies performed out in the open, the place were the rituals were to take place decided by divination

The Moso Naming Ceremony: The Moso celebrate this rite, which they call "choosing a name", immediately after the baby is born.

Moso Walking Marriage: Among the Moso there is not marriage as we understand it. Instead they practice a kind of marriage called azhu, for which when the night falls; the men go to the woman's house, leaving it before dawn.

The Moso in the Web: The most interesting pages in Internet.

Academic Materials about the Moso

Tami Blumenfield.- Na Education in the Face of Modernity

Many of their traditions are being affected by mainstream Han Chinese culture, whose influence through schooling, television, and tourism is growing. New opportunities for Na youth to find employment outside of their villages also threaten the continuity of village life. At the same time, tourism is affirming the income-generating potential of ethnic identity and natural resources. Finally, the steady penetration of Han values is countered by a resurgence of Na religions.

Chuan-kang Shih.- Tisese and Its Anthropological Significance Issues around the Visiting Sexual System among the Moso

I found that in Naru there is neither an abstract noun exclusively denoting the Moso visiting relationship, nor a term for any type of sexual union corresponding to marriage in other societies.

Angel Cheng.- The Voice of Forgotten Mothers: Sex Education in a Matriarchal Society Luguhu Town

The goal of my project was to establish a sex education program, in the only existing Chinese
matriarchal society, in order to promote proper sexual knowledge, to attract global attention and
to reduce the illiteracy rate.

Binglin Gong, Huibin Yan and Chunlei Yang.- An Experimental Study of Gender Differences in a Matrilineal Society

Following Gneezy et al (2008), we run the dictator game and a replica of the competition experiment in Gneezy et al (2008) in a matrilineal society, called the Mosuo, an ethnic minority group living in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of southwestern China.

Melissa Judson.- Weaving and Scheming: Adventures on Planet Mosuo

They are most commonly labeled as a matriarchal and matrilineal society, however I find
that the society cannot be quite so neatly filed away into either of those restrictive Western categories.

Alan Lu.- China's One-child policy and the matrilineal alternative.

In conforming to the Moso culture, the nurturant needs of the family members are satisfied to a greater extent under the Moso family construct than the monogamist construct since the community plays a role in the care for the children, regardless of how miniscule the role.

Lamu Gatusa (Mosuo).- Matriarchal Marriage Patterns of the Mosuo People of China

The matriarchal family is composed exclusively of matrilineal members, including grandmother, mother, maternal aunts, and uncles (mother's brothers), sisters and brothers, and the children of oneself and of the sisters. No members of the parental side are part of it. The members of a matrilineal family belong to a mother or her sister's children.

Liberty A. Lidz.- A Synopsis of Yongning Na (Mosuo)

The language of the Na (Mosuo) is estimated at 40,000 speakers (Yang Zhenhong, to appear), split between three dialects: Yongning, Beiquba, and Guabie (He and Jiang 1985:4). Na itself is categorized as an eastern variety of Naxi, which linguists variously characterize as an unsubgrouped Tibeto-Burman language (Thurgood 2003:19–20); on the periphery of Loloish

Charles F, McKhann.- Naxi, Rerkua, Moso, Meng: Kinship, Politics and Ritual on the Yunnan-Sichuan Frontier

For nearly a hundred years now, there has been a debate on the cultural and historical relations between the Naxi of what I will call the Lijiang area and the Moso of Ninglang, Yanyuan, Yanbien and Muli counties.

Charles F. McKhann.- The Naxi and the Nationalities Question

The difference between the residence patterns, descent systems, and hierarchical structures of Naxi and Mosou ave obvious economic implications.

Petrina Rowcroft, John Studley and Keith Ward.- Eliciting Forest Values and “cultural loss” for Community Plantations and Nature Conservation

This paper outlines a participatory method for eliciting forest values and “cultural loss” by gender and ethnic group and is illustrated with data collected from four ethnic groups who live in The Lugu Lake Nature Reserve (Ninglang County, Yunnan, China). It would appear that a set of 13 forest values are recognized by most groups, there are significant differences between the forest value sets on the basis of ethnicity/gender.

Marsha Smith.- Constructing Identities: Tensions in Defining Naxi/Mosuo and Bai/Yi Ethnicities:

some groups do receive a great deal of provincial and national subsidization to re-establish cultural educational centers and religious activities.

Judith Stacey.- Unhitching the horse from the carriage: Love and marriage among the Mosuo

If there were an international endangered species status for vanishing family forms, I would nominate the Mosuo1 people of Southwest China without delay. The contemporary world stands to lose a great deal, I believe, if we allow the unique, ancient Mosuo family system to expire

Wen Bo, Shi Hong, Ren Ling, Xi Huifeng, Li Kaiyuan, Zhang Wenyi, Su Bing, Si Shiheng, Jin Li and Xiao Chunjie.- The origin of Mosuo people as revealed by mtDNA and Y chromosome variation. 2002

We showed that the maternal lineages of the Mosuo bear the strongest resemblance with those found in Naxi while its paternal lineages are more similar to those that are prevalent in Yunnan Tibetan. The marked difference between paternal and maternal lineages may be attributable to the genetic history, matriarchal structure, and visiting marriage.

Ruxian Yan.- The Kinship System of the Mosuo in China

In this area, women are considered superior and mothers are highly respected. The big trees are called female trees while the small ones are called male trees; the big mountain is called mother-mountain while the small ones are called male mountains. The matrilineal blood ties are paramount.

Thesis and dissertations

Jesse Millett.- Lugu Lake: Preservation and Exploitation. 2007

Tourism does have its flaws though, and it's not just on one group of people, but on the people as a whole. If tourism becomes careless, it could harm the very aspects of Mosuo life that were initially of interest, such as the environment and the culture. If a destination begins to have too many tourists, it could begin to damage the environment through littering, solid waste, air pollution, etc.

Books and references

An online Na (Moso)- English and French dictionary. Alexis Michaud

This dictionary documents the lexicon of the Na language (nɑ˩-ʐwɤ˥) as spoken in and around the plain of Yongning, located in Southwestern China, at the border between Yunnan and Sichuan, at a latitude of 27°50’ N and a longitude of 100°41’ E. This language is known locally as ‘Mosuo’.

Basic Bibliography of the Moso: Some of the basic books about the Moso in western languages.

Liu Xuehan.- Discovering the Mysterious Oriental Kingdom of the Female: a short book about the Mosou people written by an author who have been in contact with them for more than 20 years.

Lamu Gatusa.- Lugu Lake - Mother Lake: a join work of the writer Lamu Gatusa, himself a Moso born near the lake, and Li Yuebo, a well known photographer who has visited the area extensively. The result is a nice book with nice pictures and an interesting, though concise texts.

Chinese Bibliography of the Moso: Some of the most important books in Chinese about the Moso.

A book about the kinship system of the Nahing: There are many affinities between the Nahing people and the Na people of Yongning. The latter are well known for its unique system of "visit" marriage.

The Moso in the Art, art of the Moso

Photo Exhibitions

Ethnic China photo exhibitions
More Photo exhibitions


Moso music
A guide to download their music

Films and Video

Documentary Films about the Moso
Available dvds and vcds about the Moso
Image of the the Moso in the cinema


The Moso in the art
Art Exhibitions


Travel to Moso lands

Please contact us: