A Society without Fathers or Husbands: The Na of China

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Overview

The Na of China, farmers in the Himalayan region, live without the institution of marriage. Na brothers and sisters live together their entire lives, sharing household responsibilities and raising the women's children. Because the Na, like all cultures, prohibit incest, they practice a system of sometimes furtive, sometimes conspicuous nighttime encounters at the woman's home. The woman's partners--she frequently has more than one--bear no economic responsibility for her or her children, and "fathers," unless ...
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Overview

The Na of China, farmers in the Himalayan region, live without the institution of marriage. Na brothers and sisters live together their entire lives, sharing household responsibilities and raising the women's children. Because the Na, like all cultures, prohibit incest, they practice a system of sometimes furtive, sometimes conspicuous nighttime encounters at the woman's home. The woman's partners--she frequently has more than one--bear no economic responsibility for her or her children, and "fathers," unless they resemble their children, remain unidentifiable.

This lucid ethnographic study shows how a society can function without husbands or fathers. It sheds light on marriage and kinship, as well as on the position of women, the necessary conditions for the acquisition of identity, and the impact of a communist state on a society that it considers backward.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Marriage is the foundation of all societies, anthropologists have claimed. Yet the Na, an ethnic minority living in China's Himalayan foothills, have enjoyed a successful culture without it. The Na are a truly matrilineal society: heterosexual activity occurs by mutual consent and mostly through the custom of the secret nocturnal "visit"; men and women are free to have multiple partners and to initiate or break off relationships when they please. Children are raised by their mother's family, with the biological father playing no role whatsoever. Cai Hua, director of research at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences in China, lived among the Na for extended periods during the 1980s and 1990s and gathered comprehensive data on their history, religion, economic practices and social customs in particular, kinship systems. The resulting description and analysis, originally presented as his master's thesis, introduces a fascinating culture for whom "sexuality is not a piece of merchandise but a purely sentimental and amorous matter that implies no mutual constraints." (Hua does not mention whether homosexual activity is similarly tolerated.) Na men and women generally report high satisfaction with their sex lives. As in other cultures, though, physically unattractive, disabled and older individuals have few (if any) romantic options; high rates of sexually transmitted diseases also occur. This painstakingly researched book will provide social scientists with much useful information and will raise major questions about accepted views of family relationships and gender roles. Its dry prose, clinical tone and exhaustive scope, however, may prove daunting for general readers. (May 1) Forecast: Touted as a groundbreaking study, this book is clearly intended for specialists. Though thoroughly researched and meticulously presented, it lacks the kind of readability that could have made it a 21st-century Coming of Age in Samoa. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Cai (anthropology, College de France) has explored a truly unique society: the Na, a minority group of approximately 12,000 living in Southwest China near the Burmese border. A matrilineal society, Na families consist of sisters and brothers, along with other consanguineous members, living together and raising the sisters' children, who result from the night visits of various male lovers. The lovers have no connection with the family, have no responsibilities, and do not acknowledge their fatherhood; the children, in turn, do not know their fathers. Cohabitation, whereby a woman or man joins a family, or marriage occur only under extremely unusual circumstances. Communist efforts to bring the Na into mainstream values met with failure and laughable results. Cai has a dry and plodding scholarly tone with much repetition, but the book still makes for fascinating reading. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Kitty Chen Dean, Nassau Community Coll., Garden City, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781890951122
  • Publisher: Zone Books
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Pages: 505
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Cai Hua is Director of the Center for Anthropological and Folkloric Studies at the PekingUniversity.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 30, 2012

    fascinating questions about love

    This is a marvelous work of research on a society with fundamentally alternative traditions of family and sexual life. Cai Hua's study of Na culture (otherwise called the Moso) raises universal questions for our assumptions about love, marriage, and community.

    --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization

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