From Anarchy In Action
Mosuo girls.jpg

The Mosuo are a matrilineal and arguably matriarchal people who live around southwestern China's Lake Lugo for at least 1600 years.[1] Today's Mosuo population is about 30,000 to 40,000.[2]


Perhaps the most remarkable quality about the Masuo is that, as The Guardian reports, "women are treated as equal, if not superior, to men."[3] Kelly Dawson writes in Refinery29:

"Mosuo women share a strong sense of identity, shaped no doubt in large part by a community that treats them as equals. The women are fiercely protective of their heritage, and quick to brag about their 'strong' and 'capable' female family members and friends."[4]

Clan Structure

Each clan has about 15 to 20 people, and they live in a clan house built around a courtyard. Each clan elects a woman to be the matriarch or "Dabu." Each clan tends to pick the elder woman they consider most caring. One of the Dabu's functions is to serve as priestess in family ceremonies.[5]


Mosuo practice "walking marriage" in which the husband stays with his family in daytime and with his wife's family during the night. The marriage can be ended at any time by either party. Most walking marriages are monogamous.[6]


Initiation ceremonies, especially for girls, and funeral rites are the main religious events. The Mosuo synthesize their traditional animistic beliefs with Tibetan Lamaism, although the traditional beliefs remains dominant. The Gan mu mountain is revered as the goddess of love and fertility, and Mosuo visit her annually for a dance celebration.[7]


"Geze [Duoji] says that many outsiders have the impression that Mosuo women lord it over men. In fact, he says, decisions are made democratically at family meetings, with each adult member having his or her say, and labor is divided in a humane and equitable fashion."[8]

The traditional shared leadership of women and men has partially eroded in recent times.[9] According to NPR, "Traditionally, the Mosuo's political leaders were often women. Today, most Mosuo officials are men, but this too is a division of labor, as the Mosuo feel men are better suited to act as envoys to the outside world of male-dominated politics."[10]


According to researcher Choo Waihong, the Mongols in medieval times imposed a feudal system that put a small landowning class of Mosuo in charge. While the rest of the Mosuo continued their matrilineal traditions, this landowning class became patrilineal, according to Waihong:

"It’s interesting. After Yunnan was conquered by Kublai Khan, he placed his people in charge of the whole province. In this area, he appointed a local family to act as the lord. By introducing the Mongolian culture to this elite, he allowed the man to say 'actually, you should get married, and you can have multiple wives.' The overlord had three to four wives over the years, and had this patriarchal set-up mandated by the government of the day.

But the rest of the Mosuo continued their matrilineal ways. It didn’t affect what the local people wanted to continue doing."[11]

The clan's Dabu organizes farmwork, distributes food and manages communal property. Income from work is handed over to her, and she distributes it through the family according to need. The Dabu does not get any privileges or unilateral decision-making power from this role.[12]

Differently-abled ("disabled") people are well cared for and revered as divine messengers.[13]


The Mosuo view nature as sentient and honors "mountains, springs, gorges and fields as sacred places." Lake Lugu is revered and protected as Mother Lake.[14]


Crime has been rare among the Mosuo.[15]

  1. Lamu Gatusa, "Matriarchal Marriage Patterns of the Mosuo People of China," Societies of Peace,
  2. 30,000 comes from Gatusa, "Matriarchal Marriage Patterns." 40,000 comes from Mosuo Project,
  4. Kelly Dawson, "Sweet, Sweet Fantasy: Searching For A Land Where Women Rule," Refinery29, 17 December 2018,
  5. Heide Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Around the World (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2012), 108-110.
  6. Dawson, "Sweet, Sweet Fantasy."
  7. Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies, 113.
  8. Dawson, "Sweet."
  9. Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies.
  10. Anthony Kuhn, "The Place In China Where The Women Lead," NPR, November 26, 2016,
  12. Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies, 108.
  13. Gatusa, "Matriarchal Marriage."
  14. Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies, 113.
  15. Kuhn, "The Place." Lamu Gatusa, "Matriarchal Marriage."