The Mosuo is a small ethnic group belonging to the Naxi, inhabiting in Yunnan and Sichuan Province. One of the best known, and least understood, aspects of Mosuo culture is their practice of what has been termed “walking marriage”.
Mosuo is the only matriarchal society in China that still exists with the system of “walking marriage”. There is no traditional marriage in Mosuo culture. Therefore, there are no husbands or wives. Children of such relationships are raised by their mothers and the mothers' families.
The Mosuo have large extended families, and several generations living together in the same house. Everyone lives in communal quarters, and there are no private bedrooms or living areas, except for women of an adult age.
All on-going sexual relationships in Mosuo culture are called “walking marriages.” These bonds are “based on mutual affection.” In the daytime, young men and women express their deep liking with each other by singing and dancing. With the emotional foundation to some extent, women invite men to visit their rooms at night and to leave the next morning.
The emotional breakdown marks the end of the relationship of walking marriage. Whether or not the father is involved, children are raised in the mother's home and assume her family name.
This walking marriage system is a pure system, and it is based on the love, without any social rules. Such marriage practice has many positive outcomes.
First, it gives both participants equal measures of freedom. It can be initiated at will and ended in the same manner. China has a history of focusing more on families’ ties than the individuals’ and works to serve the economic and political interests of these larger parties. Walking marriages, however, negate these social pressures and allow more independence.
Another particularly important result of this practice is the lack of preference for children of a particular sex. In poorer populations, there is a strong preference for male children, because most think when they get old, only sons rather than daughters will care for them. However, among the Mosuo, since children never leave the household, there is no particular preference for one gender over the other.
How does this ancient tradition be able to survive considering the vast changes that China has gone through over the last century? And why till today most of the Mosuo people still prefer such types of marriage to other forms? These remain the unraveling myths, which make the Mosuo people a mysterious ethnic group for outsiders.