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The Women’s Kingdom cover photo

The Women’s Kingdom 2006


Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Xiaoli Zhou & Brent F. Huffman
Directed by Xiaoli Zhou
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Area Studies, China, Women's Studies

Date Entered: 11/28/2007

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Here is a traditional, straightforward, no-frills but well-executed documentary, useful for teaching its subject but not to promote a political or social agenda as well. This reviewer has not seen this kind of documentary in years and is reassured to learn the genre is not dead. This is not to imply that the program is not entertaining or dramatic, because it is both; but, it is not fictionalized into a docudrama to make its points, nor embellished with iconic archival shots to evoke a particular point of view. It illustrates the subject—no more and no less.

The Women’s Kingdom describes the Mosuo people of southwestern China, a little known Buddhist ethnic group situated in a remote a part of the country. Only recently have outsiders begun to visit the area, which has only a small number of rustic-looking tourist accommodations and attractions, and lacks electricity and running water in many places.

The discovery of this beautiful area and its people, who practice unusual customs, has resulted in growing problems of pollution and culture clash. Mosuo society is matriarchal, and women are not urged to marry, as in other parts of China. Instead, the Mosuo follow a practice known as “walking marriage,” in which a woman allows a man to share her bed and sexual favors for a night, but he must leave by dawn before he is seen by others living in the house. Walking marriage may last one night or many, but the relationship ends when the woman says it does. Children are brought up by their mothers and maternal uncles, not their mothers and fathers, and lack of marriage does not mark a child as illegitimate.

Chacuo, a Mosuo woman interviewed extensively during this program, and her peers in other villages agree that marriage is unnecessary. A second woman says that married people fight all the time, so why should anyone tie herself to that? They are angry that male tourists think they can pay for a night of walking marriage. The idea that men control when and where sexual relationships occur is odious as is the thought of trading sex for money. To the Mosuo, love is the only rationale for sex. Chacuo says life has changed since the tourists came. Despite the money they pay for accommodations, food, and entertainment—consisting mainly of nightly folk dances performed by exotically costumed Mosuo—tourists have disturbed the culture and polluted the water sources, stretched to the limit by recent development. The program does not make judgments or try to resolve the dilemma. It simply portrays the reality.

Technically, this is a fine offering, beautifully filmed and edited, with excellent subtitles. It is paced well, showing two Mosuo villages and surrounding terrain, interviewing several Mosuo, and providing shots of farming, daily life, and folk dancing. It is a good introduction to an unusual ethnic group within China’s borders, with value for academic studies about China and/or women’s studies with students from senior high school and beyond, as well as for adults who are not studying anything, but are interested in the subjects.