This progressive, feminist world – or anachronistic matriarchy, as skewed as any patriarchal society, depending on your viewpoint – exists in a lush valley in Yunnan, south-west China, in the far eastern foothills of the Himalayas. An ancient tribal community of Tibetan Buddhists called the Mosuo, they live in a surprisingly modern way: women are treated as equal, if not superior, to men; both have as many, or as few, sexual partners as they like, free from judgment; and extended families bring up the children and care for the elderly. But is it as utopian as it seems? And how much longer can it survive?
Choo Waihong set about finding out. A successful corporate lawyer from Singapore, she left her job in 2006 to travel. Having trained and worked in Canada, the US and London, she felt drawn to visit China, the country of her ancestors. After reading about the Mosuo, she decided to take a trip to their picturesque community – a series of villages dotted around a mountain and Lugu Lake – as many tourists do. But something beyond the views and clean air grabbed her.