The Baya and the Mulao : family, gender and ancestral traditions in Luocheng Mulao Autonomous County, China

  • Roujing Wu

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The villagers in Shangnan’an and Xianan’an, two villages in Luocheng Mulao Autonomous County of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, come mainly from an ethnic minority group named the Mulao; further, most of these villagers share the surname Yin. The Baya are female shamans who conduct rituals for these villagers to resolve various personal and familial problems. Drawing on a 14-month stretch of fieldwork in these two villages, this thesis investigates the reasons the Baya have persisted for many generations in this region, despite their practices being forbidden in the period from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. Based on an analysis of the villagers’ kin relationships as well as gender practices in the region, this work argues that the Baya act as mediators between the villagers and their deceased relatives. Their rituals connect the villagers with their ancestors that help tighten kinship bonds under circumstances of changing kin relationships as well as in the face of recent changes to the status of women. The Baya’s rituals also highlight the retention of patrilineal systems in the villages, revealing those traditions that remain even as the influence of patrilineal systems weakens. This thesis thus offers a better understanding of the Mulao, as the Baya are intimately linked to Mulao life in many ways. The importance of this research is not simply in regard to the rituals of the Baya and their connections with kinship and gender: this thesis also contributes to the overall anthropology of China, advancing research on Chinese ethnic minority groups, rural China, and shamanism among Chinese ethnic minority groups.
Date of Award13 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorMark Harris (Supervisor) & Mette Marie High (Supervisor)


  • Rural China
  • Shamanism
  • Kinship
  • Gender
  • Ancestral traditions

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