Life around Lugu Lake — high up in the Himalayas, straddling China’s Yunnan and Sichuan provinces — has been changing rapidly. Until quite recently, the Mosuo, a Chinese ethnic minority of about 40,000 people, enjoyed hundreds of years of relative stability in a complex matriarchal structure that values female power and decision-making.
Inside a fading Chinese culture ruled by women
Since the Cultural Revolution, when the exercise of their faith was forbidden and couples were forced to marry, this stability has been slowly crumbling. Today, Mosuo culture is misrepresented — often falsely portrayed as promiscuous — and exploited as a tourist attraction by the Chinese government.
While the financial benefits of the tourism industry may counteract some of the problems caused by increasing poverty, most Mosuo families do not live in the developed area around Lugu Lake, and due to rural flight, fewer of them are able to sustain a way of life traditionally centered around large, matrilineal clans sharing their household income.
My photographs focus on older Mosuo matriarchs, also called “Dabu,” who still remember a time when the community was shielded from outside influence. These women are proud guardians of Mosuo culture and tradition but also acutely aware that these are slowly being eroded. By capturing the quiet and dignified rhythm of their daily lives, I also record a culture that is in danger of vanishing.
More images from this series can be seen on Karolin Klüppel’s web site.
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