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Lost kingdoms and forgotten tribes: Myths, mysteries and Mother-right in the history of the Naxi nationality and the Mosuo People of Southwest China

Mathieu, Christine (1996) Lost kingdoms and forgotten tribes: Myths, mysteries and Mother-right in the history of the Naxi nationality and the Mosuo People of Southwest China. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Chinese historical tradition has long associated the Mosuo and the Naxi of Southwest China under the single ethnic title of Mo-so, and Post-Liberation, both peoples were formally identified as members of the Naxi Nationality. In the 1980s, however, the Mosuo were contesting their nationality status on the grounds that they are not Naxi, and that among other things, evidence of this claim rests with the fact that they are matrilineal and the N axi are patrilineal. Chinese social science, however, explains that the socio-cultural differences between the Mosuo and the N axi are accidents of history. The Mosuo have remained at an earlier matrilineal stage, whilst the N axi reached the patrilineal stage during the Tang period and continued to progress under the influence of Han civilization. In the 'West', ethnohistorical reconstructions have attempted to make historical sense of what were until 1949, unique Naxi socio-cultural characteristic - a high rate of ritual love suicide and pictographic manuscripts - in reason of a matrilineal and common past with the Mosuo, and the devastation of the Confucian impact. Naxi society would have been matrilineal like Mosuo society until the annexation of 1723 when it was brought under direct imperial rule.

The thesis holds that the history of Naxi customs does not lie with a common Mosuo and Naxi ethnic origin, but with the feudalization of Lijiang and the establishment of the Naxi overlords as 'divine kings'. On the basis of an ethnohistorical method which takes into account broader comparative studies in Tibeto-Burman, Chinese and Tibetan ethnography, mythology, political and civilisational histories, the thesis argues that the Naxi Dongba tradition originates in a Bon inspired ritual which sustained not only the Naxi folk tradition, but the apparatus of the Mu feudal state and 'royal' house. It also argues that the pictographs were inspired from the local rock art and Naxi Naga cults, and that the diffusion of the Dongba manuscripts had to do with the conquest of the tribal peripheries during Ming times. The love suicide custom, for its part, played a juridical role in Naxi marriage institutions, including the institution of preferential patrilateral cross-cousin marriage. Preferential patrilateral cross-cousin marriage seems to be evidenced in the royal genealogy from 1400 and may have contributed to the transformation of Naxi tribal relations into feudal ones while at a later date, it perhaps played a role in integrating Han-Naxi intermarriages. The dissertation also argues that the Naxi and the Mosuo share some common ancestors, but that matrilineality is specifically relevant to the Mosuo whose aristocracy appears to have historical connections to a Tang dynasty queendom, the Dong Nu Guo. The thesis concludes that Mosuo and Naxi ethnic identities were shaped through the ritual and kinship adjustments which the history of imperial frontier politics and feudalisation instituted as local custom.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Berger, Mark, Warren, Carol and Goodman, David
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