Throughout my time in Kunming, I focused on the aspects of business that couldn’t be experienced from an outside perspective. Through this exploration, I discovered good, bad, and definitely some ugly. While my time in Kunming was incredible, for which I am eternally grateful, my time in Nanyao has illuminated hidden gems that one might otherwise ignore (perhaps as a result of an economic perspective, or simply being in a city environment).
Last night, I was reading in my room, alone, when I saw a very tall group of people walking outside. I figured they were members of our group, and raced downstairs to meet them. When I got closer, I saw the group included Avery, Tindy, Marcus, and Eli—we walked for a little while, finding ourselves outside of a beautiful guesthouse (read: hotel). We were immediately welcomed in, and our gracious hosts gave us a tour of the garden and rooms inside. While the guesthouse was captivating, the most incredible part of last evening was when we were invited to tea. Over tea, we were able to talk with our new friends about local minority cultures: the Naxi and Mosuo.
The day before our tea, my host family mentioned that there would be celebration the next day. However, my limited proficiency in Mandarin kept me from learning the festivities’ specifics. However, our conversation over tea that evening shed light on the missing details. We learned the celebration was a core part of the Naxi culture, which is a prevalent ethnic minority in Nanyao. The celebration is a sixteen day period ancestral observance, with certain days specified for communal family events. Another interesting aspect of this celebration is the conviction that a lack of rain within the sixteen day window is a bad omen. The Naxi believe this omen can be mitigated by animal sacrifice.
Luckily for our furry friends, near perpetual rain has blessed us over the past several days. Part of the celebration, which I experienced at lunch today, was a beautiful unification of family members from all parts of China. I had the privilege of being introduced to all of them, and I truly enjoyed the non-stop volley of questions the following two hours produced. The coming together of people is always heart-warming, but today held a special gem which I can’t really put my finger on. Thinking back on our conversation the night before, we also learned about the complicated relationships between the minority groups of Yunnan. The first, and most local, relationship we were taught about was that between the Naxi and the Mosuo. To be brief, the Naxi believe that the Mosuo are simply a subset of the greater Naxi community. However, the Mosuo view themselves as an independent minority group with distinct cultural differences. These viewpoints vary based on who you ask, but they are generally correct. One of the most fascinating contrasts between these two groups are their raising practices of children.
Naxi families will raise their newborns as we would expect, with a mother and a father as two prominent caretakers in the child’s life. However, many times the grandparents will be the primary providers for the children, as the mother and father will both be working. This is simply out of necessity, because younger people can work more effectively when it comes to manual labor. Even from a western point of view, this seems quite normal. Mosuo raising practices, on the other hand, are distinctively different in that the biological parents do not raise the children. To conceive a child, a man from the Mosuo community will come to a woman’s home for one night, then leave. From this point on, the woman will raise the child with her brothers, sisters, mother, and father. This is one of the most noticeable differences between the Mosuo and the Naxi, but they also share some striking similarities.
The reason why Naxi claim that the Mosuo are part of the Naxi is because they were, or at least they used to be interconnected. The strongest remaining connection between the groups is that they are both matriarchal, making the grandmother the most powerful member of the family. This dynamic is readily apparent in my homestay, as my homestay mother is quite obviously the most dominant in the family.
Now this disorganized recollection of last nights experience may seem a little random, but preservation of local culture is a pressing concern. Over the past decade, Lijiang, a nearby city, has blossomed into a tourism hub which generates 1.3 billion USD every year. While this has brought economic prosperity to some, local Chinese culture has been commoditized for the masses in a destructive way. Minority culture, such as that of the Naxi and Mosuo, is a beautiful remnant of Chinese tradition that is currently being threatened. However, the conversation that we had with this local Naxi man, or simply his immediate instinct to invite us for tea, is proof that Nanyao remains a time capsule for beautiful customs that have been lost elsewhere.