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I have started this thread because of a discussion in another topic, which aroused a lot of interest, but seemed inappropriate for that discussion (the Opium Wars).|
I recently spent 2 weeks living in a small Mosuo village in northern Yunnan province, close to the borders with Sichuan and Tibet.
The Mosuo are one of China's many minorities, and have a very unique culture -- they have a matriarchal system, in which women are the head of the family; and they do not practice marriage, but rather a system whereby the women can choose different men, according to their interest.
The Mosuo share a cultural heritage that is thousands of years old, and is one of the most unique cultures in the world (not just in China). They have their own language (oral only; they have no written language of their own), and their religion is derived from Tibetan Buddhism.
They are also among the poorest people in China. They live mostly in remote, mountainous regions of China (Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet), and live a lifestyle that most of us here -- including other Chinese -- have never experienced. The village I lived in got electricity for the first time last year. They still have no running water in the village. The annual income of many of the people there is less than RMB 1000/year...in the surrounding mountains, there are people living on less than RMB 500/year.
Despite these problems, they are a very warm, friendly, and proud people. They are proud of their history and culture, and working hard to preserve it. The Mosuo I met were extremely friendly to me, taking me into their homes, and treating me with every courtesy, despite their poverty. They never asked for anything from me, and absolutely refused any payment for the meals and gifts they gave me.
Now, one of the big problems facing the Mosuo is education; the standard of education in that region is extremely low. Many of the schools are little more than mud structures, with no lights or heat. Most of the teachers are volunteers who never completed high school themselves. Many of the materials and supplies are out of date or unuseable. In the village I visited, only 2 students last year made it to junior middle school; and none have made it to college or university.
The Mosuo themselves are very concerned about this, and want very desperately to improve the quality of education for their children, so that their children can have better lives, and so that they can develop and strengthen their communities with a higher standard of living.
I am therefore planning to start a small project, beginning in the village I visited (named "Wenquan"), to try to improve education there. However, having been involved in similar projects in the past, there are several potential problems:
1) Corruption -- it is a sad fact that a lot of money sent to such projects ends up in the hands of local officials who use it to benefit themselves, rather than the students and teachers
2) Effectiveness -- In my opinion, teachers are a greater priority than students...it is more effective to provide a highly qualified teacher for a smaller number of students, than to provide a higher number of students for a poorly qualified teacher. Money should be targeted in a way that will have the GREATEST practical effect.
3) Agenda -- In my opinion, again, the purpose of such education is PURELY to give the Mosuo better tools to determine their OWN future; not to teach them to forget their own culture, or to accept another culture (Han Chinese, or western, or any other). But many teachers who go to such areas want to change their culture, or religion, or other such things.
My project is therefore starting on a very simple basis -- to send a few qualified teachers (both Chinese and foreign) to work in their schools. My project would pay for all the costs of the teachers (transportation, accomodation, salary, etc.). NO money would be given to local officials; I would pay the teachers directly myself, so that I don't have to worry about corruption.
The teachers will also be screened fairly carefully, to find people who will respect the local culture, and try to HELP them, rather than to CHANGE them.
This is the beginning.
Later, hopefully, I can add to this project. After we have better teachers, we can start to provide money to students, to help them go to school. We can help them buy better equipment and supplies. But all of this will be done step by step, in a manner that ensures that it is all done with the best effect, and avoiding any of the problems I described above.
The purpose of this thread is two-fold...first, for anyone who is interested in this idea, we can discuss it further, and exchange ideas. Second, I would be happy to share more about my experiences with the Mosuo, and to talk further about their culture. Anyone else who has knowledge/experience with Mosuo culture is, of course, welcome to add their own views. (By the way, if you've only read about the Mosuo in books, it is likely that your impression of them is not very accurate; I had read many books about them before going, but once there discovered that most of those books were romanticized and inaccurate, no painting a real, true picture of the Mosuo culture).
I will be going back to visit them once every 3 months or so, to oversee this project, and to learn more about their culture and history. Anyone interested in coming along is, of course, more than welcome to (my next trip will be during the Oct. 1 holiday).
I will put some pictures below, to show some aspects of Mosuo life.