Choo Waihong’s ‘The Kingdom of Women’ a study of female grit

By Claudine Housen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/7 18:43:39

Choo Waihong Photo: Courtesy of Choo Waihong 

Two Mosuo girls Photo: IC

If there is only one thing that Singaporean author Choo Waihong would want her readers to take away from her book The Kingdom of Women, it would be that a world where women are equal to men is not just possible, it is real, and it thrives in the mountains of Yunnan Province among the Mosuo ethnic minority.

"I hope all the young women who read this book will be inspired and not feel that a more equal world is impossible," she said.

A former lawyer with one of the top law firms in Singapore, Choo retired early in 2006 after having an epiphany one Sunday afternoon while working overtime at the office.

"Being a lawyer so filled my life that I had no other," she writes in her book. "I had no family, no significant other, no kids, nothing really to look back on with a smile."

The odyssey that followed her departure led her to Lugu Lake on the borders of the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, where she met and fell in love with the Mosuo and their culture, which puts women at the head of the family structure.

Mosuo culture

"It's possible to have a woman-centric society, and the world does not come to an end," Choo said during a recent book talk in Beijing .

In Musuo society, all the power lies in the hands of women. The bloodlines are passed down through the women, the finances and property are managed by the women and women see themselves as sexual beings beholden to no man. There is no "marriage" in this society, and the nuclear family does not exist. Instead, they practice what is called a "walking marriage" where the woman can have as many or as few sexual partners as she pleases, and should she become pregnant, the child belongs to her family.

That is not to say that men do not play a role in the community.

"Men are not suppressed," she ex.

Treated as equals, men do things that the women who are seen as representing "light and life" cannot do. For example, they are the ones who kill animals or handle the deceased.

"It's not a flip side or female suppression of male. It is a bit more equal because of the way they deal with each other. I think the interpersonal relationship among the Mosuo is quite equal."

The Mosuo lack fathers by an "outsider" definition of the word.

"In our society, it is important that children have an identity with their father. In the Mosuo world all that matters is that you are born to this matrilineal [line], and if your mother has four sisters you actually have five mothers who will look after you," Choo told the Global Times.

"It's one large family with no distinction of birth mother. They are very secure in their structure. [The patriarchal role for the man] doesn't matter because they are fully functioning."

In response to the generally held idea that male children need to have role models to learn how to be a man, Choo said that isn't an issue because the boy's uncles are present in the household.

Cultural attrition

Having lived many years almost untouched by the outside world, the "Mosuo cosmos," as Choo likes to call it, is undergoing some rapid changes, due in part to its transition from an agrarian society to one that has opened up to tourism.

But the cost might be too high.

"There is no push [to preserve culture]. I only know of one person who goes to the primary school for an hour to teach the school kids the [Mosuo] language and songs. Outside of this person, there is no sort of organized structure to preserve the Mosuo culture and language."

Other traditions such as the coming of age ceremonies for both boys and girls, while still performed, are perhaps not as rich as they once were. Known as the Becoming an Adult Celebration, the ceremony is performed during the 13th spring after a child is born, not on the actual day of birth.

During this celebration, a girl will be given a skirt in what is called the Wearing the Skirt ceremony, at the end of which she becomes a "fully fledged person on whom would be conferred all the attendant rights of a grown-up," writes Choo.

However, when she was once asked to perform a similar ceremony for a young boy, the boy's mother had forgotten some of details of the rituals entailed in what one local described as "the biggest day of our lives."

Alternate paths

"I am already very sad about the author's experience of how the intrusion of tourism and modernity and modern society, is shifting this matriarchal culture away from its structure and values and practices, particularly among the young women," Victoria Williams from London, who attended the talk, told the Global Times.

"It kind of saddens me a bit that one of those outposts of women in a position of power and control in a community is being undermined by the modern world."

Gabriel Corsetti, who had been to Lugu Lake before, said he found the author's experience interesting.

"I think that it is very interesting to see how even though most traditional societies in the world are patriarchal that there are some that are not and so, obviously, it is possible. It has always been possible for human society. It [then becomes] an interesting question why most of the societies in the world went down that path," he told the Global Times.

Newspaper headline: When women rule

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