China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



2011 in The China Beat


Copyright 2011. Used by permission.


The first winter I stayed with a Moso (sometimes spelled Mosuo) family in southwest China, my weeks of Naru language tutoring did not help me get very far in understanding their conversations. I had trouble sorting out the names and relationships of the ten to eighteen family members who ate meals together and lived in that household. The apu (grandfather) joked to me that I, an American citizen who had been living in China, was now in the foreign country’s foreign country; no wonder I was disoriented. Their corner of Yunnan was culturally and linguistically distinct from other parts of the country, which was also foreign to me. While this presented some challenges, it also offered the attraction to learn about a new and different place. I have never heard the Chinese tourists who seek adventure within the bounds of their own nation’s borders describe these areas as foreign countries, but the orientations and conversations they relate are intriguing all the same. Through touring, they are developing and deepening a kind of state-approved narrative. This is most evident when travel agencies guide them and literally narrate their experiences.