The Mosuo have a unique societal structure. For many generations, the Mosuo have been a matrilineal people. Mosuo families typically view romantic and sexual relationships as less important than blood relationships. For this reason, Mosuo families are structured in a unique way. Children stay with their mothers, take their surname and rarely have much interaction with their fathers. Maternal uncles take the place of fathers in the child’s life. The mother’s family works together to raise the children of all the women in the house. Households are typically comprised of one or more elders, several adult siblings or cousins and the children of these women.
Mosuo adults stay with their natal families all their lives, when the time comes in which they want to enter into a relationship, the man goes to the woman’s house at night and leaves in the morning to take care of his familial duties. These relationships could last for one night or for the person’s entire life. These relationships are viewed as voluntary and somewhat casual, so economics rarely involved. Some Mosuo people do marry in what Westerners would consider the traditional way, but this is not the norm.
In the 1960’s, Chinese researchers investigated the Mosuo people and wrote reports to the government about their findings. Their reports concluded that the Mosuo people were primitive and had not evolved. The researchers claimed that the Mosuo were still in the early stages of social formation, calling them “living fossils”. The Communist Party reacted to these reports by attempting to force the Mosuo people to behave in accordance to what they believed a family was meant to be. The government did their best to encourage patriarchal households, but it could not get traction, the Mosuo held onto their way of life. Today, tourists come from all over China and the world to see these “living fossils”. Like the researchers in the 1960’s, tourists of today do not understand the Mosuo. People often confuse the Mosuo women’s sexual autonomy with promiscuity. The Chinese in particular began associating the Mosuo with unrestrained sexuality. The misconception that Mosuo women are promiscuous combined with their matrilineal social structure, leads many in China to be distrustful of them.
Chinese people believe that the Mosuo women suffer from Fox-Stench. Fox spirits in China come in many forms. That being said, fox spirits most often appear in stories as the personification of female sexuality. Throughout China, stories are told of female fox spirits that draw men in with their beauty and charm. But, they are evil and selfish. After they have gotten what they want from the man, which is usually sexual relations, the man falls ill and dies shortly after. In a patriarchal society, it is very important to restrain female sexuality in order to preserve family bloodlines. The Mosuo reject this concept and because of this, they are seen as being “fox-like” to the rest of China.
Chinese fox-spirits are complex creatures. Each one has unique characteristics. The female seductress narrative is very common, but their motives often differ greatly from fox to fox. For example, some fox-spirits seduce men because they need to steal the men’s “yang” energy in order to make themselves immortal. Chinese culture relies on balance. The fox-spirits steal “yang” energy because they embody the feminine “yin” energy. Together the “yin” and stolen “yang” energy balance to make the spirit immortal. When their “yang” is stolen the men fall ill and often die. Some stories tell of fox-spirits that have a deep affinity for the men they seduce and need to decide whether or not to leave and save his life. One famous Chinese ghost story worth noting describes a male fox-spirit that was feminine in nature and functioned like a typical female fox-spirit. He was more coy than the average seductress fox-spirit but, he still made the human man fall ill and eventually die. This particular fox-spirit is special in that it is a male that embodies the feminine “yin” energy and needs to steal “yang” energy. Occasionally in stories fox-spirits have the power to heal this illness and allow the man to live. But, the fox-spirits do not usually possess the ability to save them, even if they intended to.
While most fox-spirits are sexualized women, some are men. Very often male fox-spirits are feared as much if not more than female fox-spirits. Foxes are feared in China because they are viewed as sneaky nuisances with supernatural powers. Much of the fear surrounding fox-spirits comes from the mystery surrounding them. Supernatural powers differ from fox to fox so when one stumbles on a fox-spirit they do not know what it is capable of. Male fox-spirits tend to be even more unique than their female counterparts. One Chinese ghost story describes a group of fox-spirits causing trouble for a man. In exchange for a place to live, a male fox spirit offers to chase them off and keep them away. Another story tells of a wise old man who was respected in his village, but turned out to be a fox-spirit. These stories represent the conflict that Chinese people face with fox spirits. They can be helpful at times, yet they are not to be trusted.