Passions and Colored Sleeves: Mongghul Lives in Eastern Tibet


This genre-bending work takes the novel down paths not often walked for it documents a dying culture by a couple of this cultural group, provides elaborate footnotes sure to interest the anthropologically-minded reader, has portions that are biography and history, and more. Its richly detailed description of folk and religious practices, family interactions and breadth in the number and types of scenes and vignettes provide valuable records of what was, or might have been.

            The story is set in China's largest province – Qinghai – best known for Koknor, the great inland lake and, more recently, the devastating earthquake in Yushu. Within this vast land is situated Huzhu Mongghul (Tu) Autonomous County, where the characters in this novel dwell. Noted by nineteenth century Western explorers, the Tu are one of China's fifty-six official nationalities. Speaking a language with close links to Mongolian, the Mongghul are much influenced by Tibetan religion, while retaining, as this novel details, many complex folk religious beliefs and practices.

            The novel begins a year before the advent of the twentieth century and ends a century later, spanning a time when Mongghul culture was vigorous to a time when much had been lost.

            Women figure prominently in this work. The main character, Xjirimu, refuses to discipline one of her sons, who so brutally abuses his wife that she dies while fleeing the home. The dead woman's family exacts revenge that inspires Xjirimu to lead her ruined family to a new home in a wild, dangerous land where a wolf kills an infant left unattended as Xjirimu weeds nearby with her daughters.

            Xjirimu is to repeat history. Her sole surviving son brings a wife, Zhualimaxji, into a home ruled by Xjirimu and her three daughters, each of whom have undergone a ritual that allows them to see men and have children while remaining unmarried. It is not the son, this time, who abuses his wife, but Xjirimu and the sisters. The wife flees. Where she goes and her ensuing life is vividly described by the writers, who visited her. The runaway wife describes how much she missed her homeland to which she never returned: "I climbed the mountain behind my village and gazed at my ancestral home. I wanted to fly there." She died a month after the authors' visit.

            Limusishiden and Jugui have accomplished something astonishing for they have taken us into a culture that only locals could write about so incisively, with such authority and compassion, and so unapologetically. In so doing they have created an enduring record of this vanishing culture. 

Source Reference: 

Passions and Colored Sleeves: Mongghul Lives in Eastern Tibet

TitlePassions and Colored Sleeves: Mongghul Lives in Eastern Tibet
Publication TypeJournal Article
JournalAsian Highlands Perspectives
Other NumbersLibrary of Congress Control Number: 2008944256
KeywordsAmdo, Huzhu, Mongghul
Sort Order 007
Citation Keyplacul1311