Lijiang (200 kilometers north of Dali) is charming place that has changed in recent years from a backpacker mecca to Chinese tourist mecca, welcoming more than 5 million visitors a year and even hosting a Woodstock-like rock festival. Located at an elevation of 2,285 meters (7,500 feet) in a region occupied for centuries by the Naxi minority, it has recently been taken over Han Chinese who have transformed it almost overnight into a modern city with about 1.25 million people, office towers for insurance and telecom companies, bowling alleys and foot massage centers.

But don't let your first impressions sway you. There are essentially two cities within Lijiang: the modern and the old one. In the middle of the offices and nondescript neighborhoods is a charming pedestrian-only old town with art shops, Naxi, Lisu, Yi and Mosou women in traditional clothes, tea shops and canals fed by a clear mountain stream called the Jade River running beside cobblestone lanes. Lijiang's pleasant climate make it possible to enjoy these surroundings year round.

Some have said Lijiang was the source of the Shangri-La myth and Jade Dragon Mountain — the stunning peak that overlooks it — was inspiration for Mt, Karakal. There is little evidence of the earthquake that struck here in 1996 and killed 309 people and destroyed a third of the city. The “old town," named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, was largely built or rebuilt after the earthquake and now is often swamped with tourist, many of them who sits on wooden benches and sips green tea while listening to the Classical Music Orchestra. There are also regular shaman performances.

Web Sites: UNESCO World Heritage Site site: UNESCO Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Maps of Lijiang: ;

Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books;

Getting There: Lijang is accessible by train, bus, minibus and car from Dali and Kunming. There is now fast-train service between Kunming, Dali and Lijiang that is connected to other cities of China. From Lijiang you can catch a bus that drops down the Yangtze River to Jingang (8 hours), where one can catch the Kunming-Chengdu train. Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Naxi and Lijiang

The Naxi Kingdom has traditionally had its capital in Lijiang. The Naxi are a small minority but their small numbers belie their impact on Chinese history and legend. Until recently, groups within their culture were matriarchal — women ran the show; inheritances passed down from mother to eldest daughter; businesses were run by-if not owned and controlled by-women.

The Naxi written word is the only pictographic system still in regular use today, though used almost exclusively by a diminishing number of priests as they relate legends during ceremonial meetings.More familiar to all Naxis-but no less unique-is their music. Many of China's distinctive, indigenous musical forms vanished over the centuries as new sounds and styles were adopted and adapted. But the Naxis' isolation preserved a musical style virtually unchanged, earning it the nickname "fossil music." Wind and percussive instruments predominate; the voices can be likened to melodious chants; the lyrics relate stories of the past.

Over two thirds of Naxi live in the Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County, which includes Lijiang Old City and Lijiang Municipality, and Baidi Township in Shangrila in northwest Yunnan Province. Smaller enclaves of Naxi live scattered about in other counties of Yunnan Province such as Deqin, Heqing, Jianchuan, Lanping, Ninglang, Weixi, Yongsheng, and Zhongdian Counties. Some are in neighboring Sichuan Province in Muli, Yanbia and Yanyuan Counties. A small Naxi group is located inside the Tibet Autonomous Region, in Mangkang County. Naxi mainly inhabit lowlands and the valleys among the mountain ridges. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, ~; \=/]


Naxi seniors hanging out in Lijiang
The Naxi (also spelled Nashi, Nakshi, Na-Khi) are one of China's most interesting ethnic groups. Residing primarily around the Lijiang area of Yunnan, they are a Tibetan-related people with their own language and are darker and taller than the Chinese. The area where they live is filled with high mountains, some over 5,000 meters tall. Despite the isolation provided by their rugged homeland, they Naxi are regarded as one of most Chinese-influenced people in Yunnan, especially among those who live in the cities. The Naxi are also known as the Hlikhin, Luxi, Moxie, Nakhi and Nari The Mosuo are regarded by many as a subgroup of the Naxi (see Mosuo). Naxi means “people of the black," a reference to their traditional clothes, and is a name that Naxi are happy with calling themselves. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

The Naxi are one of the best known Chinese ethnic groups and one of the most visited by tourists. Traditionally dressed Naxi women wear a blue or black-and-white cape and aprons on top of black or blue blouse and baggy pants. Symbolizing the heavens, the cape is embroidered with the circles representing the sun and the moon and the seven stars of the Pleiades.

Bruce Chatwin wrote in the New York Times, "The Nakhi are the descendants of Tibetan nomads who, many centuries ago, exchanged their tents for houses and settled in the Lijiang Valley, to grow rice and buckwheat at an altitude of over 8,000 feet. Their religion was - and surreptitiously still is - a combination of Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Taoism and a far, far older shamanistic belief: in the spirits of cloud and wind and pine." [Source: Bruce Chatwin, New York Times, March 16, 1986]

Pedro Ceinos Arcones, the author of a book on them, wrote: “Their pictographic Dongba script, the paradisiacal environment where they live, and the splendor of Lijiang, their main city, have lead thousands of travelers, from China and abroad to Naxi lands. The Naxi are the most charismatic ethnic group of China; their culture preserves a set of special characteristics that make them one of the more interesting peoples of our planet, including the preservation of the only pictographic script still in use, and the religion associated with it, the development of a philosophy that stresses the respect and conservation of nature, the matrilineal tendencies of their society, and the ability to preserve old cultural traditions already disappeared elsewhere." Some of their most famous places have suffered important changes, not always benefiting the local people. On the other side, an international interest for Naxi culture, make it a valuable treasury on the eyes of the Naxi themselves."Source: Ethnic China *]

Sights in Lijiang

Lijiang has been developed very much in accordance with the European model: with its Old Town surrounded by a modern city and an emphasis on cultural attractions and atmosphere. At night people enjoy meals at restaurants that offer Japanese and Italian dishes and watch flower-shaped lanterns float down the canals. Many of the business are owned by Non-Naxi, some of whom dress in Naxi costumes.

Heilongtan (Black Dragon Pond) Park is located at the foot of Xiangshan Mountain, north of the Ancient Lijiang City. The water in the pond is as limpid as jade so it is also known as Yuquan (Jade Spring). By the pond is the Heishui Temple, also known as Heilong Palace. Built in 1454, the fifth year of Jingtai reign period of the Ming Dyansty. There are plum of the Tang Dynasty and cypress of the Song Dynasty and camellia in the temple. In addition, there are some age-old buildings of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1616-1911) dynasties in the park such as Wufeng Building, Deyue Building, Suocui Bridge and Jietuolin. There are beautiful vistas of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain ("Yulong Xue Shan") in the not-too-far distance. Within the pond are colorful carp. A three-level pavillion is connected to the shore by a five-arch bridge.

Museum of Donga Culture (close to the Helongtan Park) is situated on a mountain stream and embraces a an exhibition hall and some traditional Naxi wooden houses. Object are displayed among trees and rhododendron bushes. There are also two shaman living at the museum. The museum covers an area of about half a hectare and is arranged according to the development of the residential houses of Naxi people. The Yuquan Spring and natural landscape of the west foot of Xiangshan Mountain are fully utilised for the opening up of the traditional residential houses of different periods, such as caves for Neoanthropus, nests and cave dwellings and half cave dwellings from the north to the south. And at the same time the folk custom and religious sites of offering sacrifices to the heaven, wind and god of nature have also been arranged for the performance of Dongba sacrificial ceremonies. In the museum a lot pictures on Dongba culture, religious books, paintings, ritual implements, and old production tools and daily utentils of Nanxi people are exhibited.

Songcheng (Lijiang) is a theme park originally conceived as a celebration of Song Dynasty culture.Andrew Chin wrote: “Boasting a unique model that emphasizes live theatrical cultural performances, Songcheng is able to usher in vast groups of people.” Website: [Source: Andrew Chin, That’s Shanghai, July 28, 2016]

Old Town of Lijiang

Old Town of Lijiang: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Lijiang Old Town is interesting culturally, ethnically, and architecturally. Also known as "Dayan Old Town," it features cobblestone streets, delightful wooden homes, wood-stone-mud structures, shops and cafes that are interwoven with narrow canals which wind past water wheels and under weeping willows. First built at the end of Southern Song Dynasty (1127- 1279), the Old Town is a well-preserved and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and was once the political, cultural, trade and educational center for northern Yunnan. Admission: 80 yuan; Tel:+86-0888-5116666, +86-888-5123432 Getting There: Cars are not allowed in Old Town, walking or cycling is a better choice.

The old alpine town was traditionally the home of Naxi people but in recent decades has been taken over by Han China, some of who dress in Naxi clothes. Lijiang possesses an ancient water-supply system of a great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today. The town, surrounded by a mountain and a river running along, has no high walls. Small streams run parallel with Sifang Street in the center of the town

According to UNESCO: “The Old Town of Lijiang, which is perfectly adapted to the uneven topography of this key commercial and strategic site, has retained a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity. Its architecture is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries. Lijiang also possesses an ancient water-supply system of great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today.

“From the 12th century onward, the Old Town of Lijiang was an important goods distribution center for trade between Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet, and is where the Silk Road in the south joins the Ancient Chama (Tea and Horse) Roads. The Old Town of Lijiang became an important center for the economic and cultural communication between various ethnic groups such as the Naxi, Han, Tibetan and Bai. Cultural and technological exchanges over the past 800 years resulted in the particular local architecture, art, urban planning and landscape, social life, customs, arts and crafts and other cultural features which incorporate the quintessence of Han, Bai, Tibetan and other ethnic groups, and at the same time show distinctive Naxi features. In particular, the murals in the religious architecture and other buildings reflect the harmonious co-existence of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

“The three parts of the Old Town of Lijiang: Dayan Old Town (including the Heilong Pool), Baisha housing cluster and Shuhe housing cluster, fully reflect the social, economic and cultural features of the different periods, following the natural topography of mountains and water sources to form an outstanding settlement combining the residential traditions of Naxi, Han, Bai and Tibetan people.”

Components and Layout of the Old Town of Lijiang

With Sifang Street as its center the city is orderly arranged with five main roads radiating to all directions lined with row upon row of tile-roofed houses which are surrounded by streams. Mufu Palace, built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), has chastity stone archs at the back and front, Hall for Official Affairs, Wanjuan Building, Hufa Hall, Guangbi Building, Yuying Building, Sanqing Hall and so on which have blended the culture of Han, Bai and Naxi ethnic groups, gathering the beauty and elegance of the gradens in south China.

Naxi Classical Music Orchestra

According to UNESCO: The Old Town of Lijiang is located on the Lijiang plain at an elevation of 2,400 meters in southwest Yunnan, China, where a series of strategic passes give access through the surrounding mountains. The Yulong Snow Mount to the northwest is the source of the rivers and springs which water the plain and supply the Heilong Pool (Black Dragon Pond), from where waterways feed into a network of canals and channels to supply the town.

“The Old Town of Lijiang comprises three component parts: Dayan Old Town (including the Black Dragon Pond), Baisha and Shuhe housing clusters. Dayan Old Town was established in the Ming dynasty as a commercial centre and includes the Lijiang Junmin Prefectural Government Office; the Yizi pavilion and Guabi Tower remaining from the former Mujia compound and the Yuquan architectural structures in the Heilongtan Park. Numerous two-storeyed, tile-roofed, timber-framed houses combining elements of Han and Zang architecture and decoration in the arched gateways, screen walls, courtyards and carved roof beams are representative of the Naxi culture and are disposed in rows following the contours of the mountainside. Wooden elements are elaborately carved with domestic and cultural elements-pottery, musical instruments, flowers and birds.

“The Baisha housing cluster established earlier during the Song and Yuan dynasties is located 8 kilometers north of the Dayan Old Town. Houses here are arranged on a north-south axis around a central, terraced square. The religious complex includes halls and pavilions containing over 40 paintings dating from the early 13th century, which depict subjects relating to Buddhism, Taoism and the life of the Naxi people, incorporating cultural elements of the Bai people. Together with the Shuhe housing cluster located 4 kilometers northwest of Dayan Old Town, these settlements nestling in mountains and surrounded by water reflect the blend of local cultures, folk customs and traditions over several centuries. The vivid urban space, the vigorous water system, the harmonious building complexes, the comfortable residences of appropriate size, the pleasant environment, and the folk art of unique style combine to form an outstanding example of human habitat.

“The Old Town of Lijiang has integrated the mountains, rivers, trees and architecture to create a human habitat featuring the unity between man and nature. With mountains extending to the plain as the protective screen in the north and the plains in the east and south, the Old Town enjoys a sound geometrical relationship and ecological layout. A forked water system originates from the snow-capped mountain and runs through the villages and the farmland. Heilong Pool and the scattered wells and springs constitute a complete water system, meeting the needs for fire prevention, daily life and production in the town. Water plays an important role in the Old Town’s unique architectural style, urban layout and landscape as the main street and small alleys front onto the canals and some buildings and numerous bridges are constructed across the canals. As an excellent example of human habitat showing a harmony between man and nature, the Old Town is a remarkable tribute to human ingenuity in land use.”

Naxi Classical Music Orchestra

Naxi Classical Music Orchestra (perform regularly in a small theater in Old Lijiang) still plays 1,000-year-old music from the Tang and Song dynasties in Lijiang in the Yunnan Province. During the Cultural Revolution, members of the orchestra buried their instruments to keep them from being destroyed by the Red Guards.

Two ancient forms of Naxi musical expression have remained virtually intact over the centuries. The group was founded by Xian Ke, a musician who spent 21 years it prison for his love of Western classical music. He launched the orchestra when he was released from prison in 1978. Many of the musicians had also spent time in prison. Much of the audience is made of tour groups. Of particular interest are the unusual wind and percussion instruments mastered by the performers.

Describing the music, Maggie Farely wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "The sound is rich and resonant, an interplay of a high-pitched bamboo flute with an array of chiming gongs, stringed instruments that are bowed or plucked, even an old Persian lute now only used in Naxi music. Many of the musicians are in their 80s and few young people are learning the music even though a school has been launched. There is a danger that music will die when the musicians die.”

Just outside Lijiang

Naxi Painting and the Baisha Frescos

Dongba painting includes board painting, bamboo pen painting, card painting, rod painting, and huge cloth scroll painting. The painting skills are distinctive: some have rough lines and simple patterns and mostly black and white; others and are colorful and bright with delicate technique and a unique style. The"God's Road Painting" — a colorful cloth scroll painting over 10 meters long is an especially rare treasure. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

The Baisha Frescos, a set of the Ming era religious paintings that decorate the walls of the main temples of Baisha Village, are another rare treasure. Baisha is a small village situated 10 kilometers from Lijiang. It is one of the earlier places where the Naxi people established themselves when they migrated to the Lijiang region, and is considered one of the cradles of Naxi culture. Baisha was also the birthplace of the Mu family, who ruled Lijiang for many centuries. [Source: Ethnic China *]

The Mu family consolidated their rule in the first years of the Ming Dynasty. They were strongly influenced by Chinese culture and even invited some famous Ming court painters to decorate the temples of Baisha. The oldest frescoes were painted in 1385. They continued to be made in a similar style for the next 200 years. Today, 53 frescos, covering a total area of 171 square meters are preserved. They are found inside some of the older temples in Baisha Village: Liuli Hall, Babaoji Palace and Dading Pavillion. In the Dajue Palace of Longquan there are also some frescos preserved. Among those who contributed were the famous Taoist painter Ma Xiaoxian. from Jiangxi, and the Tibetan Lamaist painter Gu Chang from Tibet, and local Naxi artists.

Near Lijiang

North of Lijiang the eastern reaches of the Himalayas begin. Outside of town there are several Tibetan Red Hat monasteries that contain lovely ancient frescoes that unfortunately were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The best frescoes are said to be at Babaoji Hall in Baisha village.

About 10 miles north of Lijiang is the spectacular 17,000-foot Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. On the way to the mountain are some lovely villages that are nice to bicycle or hike through. The village of Yuhu is where the adventurer Joseph Rock lived. He describe it as “a charmingly situated, if not overclean, Naxi village on the slopes of the mighty Lijiang snow range." Rock's former courtyard house has been turned into a museum. The villages of Baisha and Nguluko are also associated with Rock. Baisa is a little touristy but nearby Shuhe is nice.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xue Shan) contains one of the southernmost glaciers in the northern hemisphere. The snow-capped and fog-enveloped peaks look like a jade dragon in the clouds from the Old Town of Lijiang, from where the mountain's name originated. The tallest peak (out of 13) of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain 5,600 meters (18,372 feet) high. The mountain abounds in natural landscapes and a diversity of plant life with semitropical, temperate and glacial zones. It is a sanctuary for rare animals and plants. At Jade Dragon Snow Mountain you can enjoy cheesy carnival games and have you pictures dressed up in Naxi or Tibetan costumes. A new golf course, claims to be one of the world's longest. The thin air makes it possible to build par five holes that are nearly a half a mile long. At 4,495 meters (14,750 feet), its chairlift is one of Asia's highest. Admission: 80 yuan; 190 yuan for through ticket Hours Open: 9:30am to 4:00pm (for cable cars)

Yading (in Sichuan 400 kilometers southwest of Chengdu, 100 kilometers north, and easier to get to, from Lijiang in Yunnan) is located in Daocheng County in the southwest of Sichuan Province in the eastern part of the Tibetan-Qinghaian Plateau. Famous for its beautiful alpine valley scenery, the reserve here covers an area of 1,344 square kilometers, with 6,032-meter (19,790-foot) -high Chenrezig being its highest peak. Yading is known as one of China's oldest and best-preserved alpine ecosystems. The reserve's particular geographical environment, in addition to its alpine springs and humid climate, produces rich vegetation and unique scenic sights. Yading's amazing scenery has earned it the titles "The Last Shangri-la" and "The Last Pure Land on the Blue Planet." Admission: 150 yuan (US$23.7) per person.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge (60 kilometers northwest of Lijiang) is one of the world's deepest gorges: the distance between the Yangtze River and the top of Jade Dragon Snow mountain above is 3,850 meters (12,000 feet). According to legend, a hunted tiger escaped certain death by leaping across the River of Golden Sands ("Jinsha Jiang"), wisely choosing the gorge's narrowest point. Hiking trails line the gorge, providing breathtaking views and awesome climbs. There is a popular two-or three-day, 28-kilometers in the gorge between the villages of Daju and Qiatou.

Most people do the hike in two days, walking 4-6 hours each day. There are upper, middle and lower sections to the hike. Hikers usually go as part of a tour or take the bus or get a group together for minibus to Qiatou (which is more difficult get back from than Daju) in the morning. They hike the first day to Walnut Grove, where there are a couple of small guesthouses, and then hike the next day to Daju, where you can catch a local bus or minibus to Lijiang. See the Lonely Plant guides for more details.

Tiger Leaping Gorge lies between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan) and Haba Snow Mountain (Haba Xueshan). It is one of the deepest gorges in the world. A road has been carved into one side of Tiger Leaping Gorge for cars and buses. Work is being done on a road on the other side.

Travel Information: Best time to visit: May to July; Admission: 50 yuan for adults, 25 yuan for students. Web Site: Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

First Bend of Yangtze and Baoshan Stone City

Shigu (60 kilometers from Lijiang) is located where the Yangtze makes a famous 90 degree turn. It is a charming town of mud brick and gray tile homes with towering slopes and mountains in the background. A drum-shaped white marble stele was erected in a hillock at the corner of the Jinsha River, hence the name Shigu(Stone Drum) Town. At the end of ancient Lianzi bridge is a small art gallery.

First Band of the Yangtze

The Yangtze River runs across the Tibetan Plateau and enters Yunnan from its northwest, known as Jinsha River which flows through the high mountains and deep valleys of the Hengduan Mountains together with the Lancang River and Nujiang River. It takes a sharp turn northeastward at Shigu Town, Yulong County, Lijiang, forming a V-shape bend, known as the First Bend of the Yangtze River. The river in Shigu Ferry is wide and the water flows slowly good for boats across the river. It was a place of military strategic importance all through the ages. Boats leave twice a day for Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Baoshan Stone City (in the Jinsha (Yangtze) River Canyon, 120 kilometers north of Lijiang) was built on a huge mushroom-shaped rock. The original inhabitants were Naxi, who migrated here and built the city between 1277-1294 during the Yuan Dynasty. Old forms of Naxi language, houses and architecture have been well preserved in Baoshan. One side of the city is a stone slope going straight to the Jinsha River. On the other sides are steep cliffs. With only two stone gates in the north and south for access, the whole city forms a natural strategic pass. Houses were built according to the terrain of the rock, and all the cultivable hillsides around the city have been turned into terraced fields. Now over 100 Naxi families are still living in the city. They are very friendly to tourists.

Lugu Lake

Lugu Lake (200 kilometers from Lijiang, 20 hours on public buses or nine hours in a jeep from Lijiang) is clear pristine lake set among lovely snowcapped mountains in a region that could only be reached by foot or horseback until 1982 when a road was built. Before 1982 goods were brought in by mule train. The construction of a new road and airport nearby, opened in 2015, make Lake Lugu much easier to get to and more and more tourists are coming.

Located on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, the 8,000-foot-high lake is the home of the Mosuo, an unusual matriarchal culture that practices a unique custom, known as "walking marriage," in which men live at home with their mothers and visit the homes of their partners in the evening and then leave in the morning.

In the he last couple of years the lake and the Mosuo — an ethnic group regarded by some as a subgroup of the Naxi — have become a tourist attraction. The provincial government is building numerous tourist facilities, including a US$2.5 million, 350-room hotel and a dance hall, in the village of Luosui. It is possible to travel around the lake in a rented dugout canoe. Mosuo often entertain tourists around a bonfire where they enjoy exchanging songs.

Surrounded by high mountains and lofty ridges, Lugu Lake is located between Ninglang County of Yunnan and Yanyuan County of Sichuan, 69 kilometers from the county town of Ninglang. The Mosuo people, are Tibetan-like people and a branch of Naxi Ethnic Group. The still live in matriarchal society. Mosuo men and women never fomally marry and they remain in their mother's homes. Other ethnic communities that live in the area include the Yi and Tibetans. The path around the lake is popular with backpacking hikers.

Web Sites: Maps: Web Site: Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide ; Admission: 78 yuan; Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; T Getting There: Lugu Lake is accessible by minibus or jeep from Lijiang. Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet

Mosuo Ethnic Group

The Mosuo (also known as Nari) are a small minority with some unusual ideas about sex, marriage and the way society should be organized. Most of China's 47,000 Mosuo live in Yunnan and Sichuan province around Lugu Lake, a fertile farming area, and the town of Yongning. [Source: Lu Yuan, Sam Mitchell, Natural History, November, 2000, Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1999]

The Mosuo (pronounced MWO-swo) are also known as the Yongning Naxis. Known as the "female kingdom" or "daughters' kingdom", they have managed to keep alive their strong matriarchy customs in regards to marriage and family. A typical Mosuo family includes relatives of the mother's blood lineage — the maternal grandmother and her sisters and brothers, mother and her sisters and brothers, and mother's children and mother's sister's children. The father is regarded as an outsider. The status of women is very high. Elderly matriarchs are not only the head their family units they are also community leaders, overseeing production activities, the distribution of food and clothes and religious sacrifices. There are around 56,000 Mosuo.

Lugu Lake
According to the Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Association: “The Mosuo are, to many people, one of the most fascinating minority groups in China. Although commonly described as a matriarchal culture, the truth is much more complicated (and interesting) than that, and really defies categorization in traditional models. In general, it is true that Mosuo women take a leading role in the family (owning property, making business decisions.); and that women have more power/autonomy in many regards than in many other cultures. But there are many non-matriarchal facets of their culture, as well. Of course, one of the most interesting – and famous – aspects of Mosuo culture is the practice of “walking marriages”, a practice in which couples do not marry, but rather women can choose (and change) partners as they wish. But modern depictions of the Mosuo as sexually promiscuous (particularly marketing of Lugu Lake as a “sex tourist” area) are misleading at best, and often damaging. For more information, read our section on Mosuo culture."

Most Mosuo live around Lugu Lake, which lies between the town of Yongning of Ninglang County in Yunnan Province and Zuosuo of Yanyuan County in Sichuan. Surrounded by green mountains, it is 8,580 feet (2,600 meters) above sea level, making it the highest-altitude lake in the Yunnan province. It is also the second-deepest body of water in China, at some points deeper than 297 feet (90 m) and has a circumference of about 100 lis (50 kilometers). Known for it very clear water and fat fish, the lake has nourished the Mosuo and Naxi living around it for generations.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization),, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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