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Day 83: Lijiang

Michael Palin - HimalayaIn this morning of rediscovered pleasures I find a second-hand copy of a classic book on the city, Forgotten Kingdom by Peter Goullart, a Russian-born Frenchman who lived and worked in Lijiang in the 1940s until forced to leave by the zealous xenophobes of the Communist revolution. 'A book about paradise by a man who lived there for nine years', says a Times review of 1957.

It contains tantalizing snippets of information that you never find in the guide books; that the Naxi were born gossips and the despair of missionaries; that their preferred poison was black aconite boiled in oil, which was characterized by a paralysis of the larynx. 'In convulsions the victim could only stare frantically at his helpless friends without being able to utter a word.'

Goullart was particularly impressed by the Naxi women, who 'silently and persistently, like the roots of growing trees...evolved themselves into a powerful race until they utterly enslaved their men. To marry a Naxi woman was to acquire a life insurance and the ability to be idle for the rest of one's days.'

Echoes of Namu and the Mosuo women here, and once again evidence that Yunnan's ethnic minorities have more in common with each other than with the rest of China.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 83: Lijiang
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Lijiang
  • Book page no: 196

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