Enter the City: A New Option for Lugu’s Young Adults

Courtesy of Angelia Shi.
Angelia Shi
March 26, 2021

Lake Lugu is a relatively rural area in China situated in the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The locals, Mosuo people, still live in multigenerational matriarchal families. Within the family, the grandmother is usually in charge and distributes money equally among family members. As tourism has developed in the area, locals have opened hotels where they host traditional dance shows, and rowboats to show tourists the area, while still having self-sufficient agriculture. The growing economy has allowed more young women and men to receive an education and enter nearby cities, such as Xichang, Kunming, and Chengdu, to seek jobs. This has helped create a change from the male-dominated educational and occupational norms of the past. While this new phenomenon can expose Lake Lugu’s young adults to discrimination against their rural way of life, it is, overall, a transformative experience, empowering them with new skills and more career options while deepening their appreciation for life with their extended families. 

It is undeniable that the experiences of the Mosuo people in city environments may not be positive. Growing urbanization has brought a sometimes glaring distinction between “city people” and “rural people.” According to a survey conducted by the Social Investigation Center of China Youth Daily in 2015, about 40% of 3500 respondents claimed there is still discrimination in cities against rural people. Indeed, some of the Musuo teenagers I interviewed while conducting research in December, 2020, had experienced unfair treatment while working in cities. One young woman, who worked in Xichang after graduating from a technical school, felt mistreated by her employer, who repeatedly extended her internship in what seemed to be an attempt to prevent her from becoming a full-time employee with higher pay. 

Nevertheless, most Mosuo young adults who work in cities have generally positive experiences, learning skills they otherwise would not. In Mosuo families, women are in charge of cooking and farming, while men handle manual labor, such as cutting firewood. However, within these large families, members of the younger generation have fewer responsibilities than their older family members. Since youths experience this environment for much of their lives, their independence, ability to take care of themselves, and perseverance may not be fully developed until they work in a city far from other family members. One of the women I interviewed during my research worked at a local Starbucks in Kunming and learned different methods of making coffees after graduating from college. During my visit to Lake Lugu, I found there was only one coffeehouse in the area, serving just a few types of coffee. By working in the city, the woman improved her interpersonal communication skills and learned new culinary techniques, an experience that she could not have locally. Similarly, young adults who seek to enter the medical field can be mentored by experts in their field of interest in cities and have more hands-on experience in larger hospitals rather than local clinics. 

City life not only allows young adults to learn new skills but also offers them career options. In the Lugu area, career options are limited to domestic work or employment in the tourism industry, welcoming visitors at family-style hotels and restaurants, guiding rowing tours around the region, and hosting cultural exhibitions. In contrast, cities offer numerous career opportunities, from food delivery to teaching at schools of all levels, to government work. One young adult I interviewed, Kuzuo, had the chance to take classes at a cooking school and discover his path to becoming a chef in the city. Another young man I interviewed works as a police guard for an urban neighborhood, a career option that is not typical in rural areas. 

Lastly, by witnessing the issues experienced by some small families in cities, the Mosuo young adults learn to appreciate their extended family life more. Though the tradition of living among extended families is an essential part of Mosuo culture, some individuals live in smaller families for the sake of pursuing the city lifestyle. However, these families can face some common problems, including issues with caring for elders, jealousy when certain family members earn more than others, and fights for the family inheritance after elders’ deaths. These problems rarely happen in Lugu extended families, which divide work among members, spend money together, and take care of children and elderly together. When Lugu people enter the city and hear such problems from their neighbors, they learn to cherish their large families more. When they return home, instead of advocating for moving out and forming small families, they understand the advantages of their extended family, preserving a unique tradition of the Lugu community. 

In sum, urban environments provide valuable opportunities for young Lugu adults to learn various skills, gain more career options, and appreciate their traditions more. Ultimately, I believe more Lugu young adults should take the step to enter the city and broaden their horizons. 

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