Where Women Choose

In a remote part of China, on the shore of a lake at a high altitude, surrounded by towering mountains, the Mosuo society has one of the most unusual marriage arrangements in the world. This ancient matriarchal society of about 50,000 people has lasted nearly 2,000 years and thrives today. Because of their isolated location, the Mosuo people have been successful in resisting the imposition of patriarchal family traditions common in other parts of China. Since the society is a matriarchy, women carry the family name and govern the economic and social affairs of the extended family. All of the sons and daughters of each woman live their entire lives together in their mother’s house.

After an initiation ceremony into adulthood at age 13, each girl is given her own room in the family house. There she can welcome lovers of her choice to come in the evening and stay overnight with her. Each dawn, her lover returns to his own mother’s home, where he lives. This tradition is called "walking marriage" because men walk to women’s houses to be with them overnight. A woman initiates a walking marriage by a glance or a special touch on the palm of her chosen’s hand. Men never initiate, but they can decline an invitation.

When a Mosuo woman becomes pregnant and bears a child, the child stays in the family house of the woman’s mother. The woman’s brothers help raise their sister’s chil­dren. The biological father assumes no fathering role except for his sisters’ children. The only reasons men and women get together are for love and sexual intimacy, not for

Sexuality and the Adult Years

Each Mosuo house is usually a home for two to three generations of women and their sons and daughters.

child rearing. Therefore, walking marriages are easily begun and ended. Once love dies for either partner, the walking marriage is over: The woman might find that her lover’s nightly visits stop, or her lover might arrive to find her door locked (Bennion, 2005; Ryan & Jetha, 2010).