The secret China doesn't want the world to know

The recent earthquakes in China caused perhaps as many as two thousand deaths. These quakes have gotten far less international publicity than the Chinese earthquakes of a year ago. The lower level of publicity is due not only to the lower casualty numbers and to earthquake news fatigue, but also to a dirty little secret that China would prefer not to have known. The area where the quakes occurred is home to a non-Han group of people who practice polyandry. One wife, several husbands.

The majority of inhabitants of China are Han. The best known of the other ethnic groups that live in China are Tibetans, Mongols and Uighurs. The most recent earthquake took place in Yunan province, in an area the Chinese call Shangria (the name which inspired the Western idea of Shangri La). Most of locals there are Tibetans.

In ancient times, Han and Mongols practiced polygamy. It's likely that Uighurs, being mostly Muslim, still practice polygamy, although China's official One Child Policy may have driven that practice underground.

Tibetans sometimes practice polyandry, like several other ethnic groups in central Asia, such as the people of Sikkim.

According to this Japanese website, the official Chinese news agencies reporting on the earthquake do not want attention pointed to the local practice of polyandry. The official line is that this practice died as of 1949, when Communist China was born. A Japanese reporter, Yaita, was denied access to the area of the earthquake by Chinese officials. A Chinese editor who tried to report on the issue of polyandry in this area was replaced by officials because of this breach.

But don't get your salacious juices worked up. Polyandry in Central Asia is usually practiced for reasons that have nothing to do with sexual thrills. It is a way of keeping together inheritances, especially property rights. As Western history has demonstrated over and over, a father with many children causes the inheritance to be broken into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually impoverishing the generations down the line. The same sort of fractioning of inheritances is avoided when polyandry is the rule.

In actual practice, polyandry in Central Asia is a poor people's practice which, at best, keeps poor people from slipping even further into deeper poverty.

In any case, no great work of literature of the area extolling the virtues (if that's the right word) of polyandry is known to survive. The secret isn't out. Yet.


The recent earthquakes in China caused perhaps as many as two thousand deaths. These quakes have gotten far less international publicity than the Chinese earthquakes of a year ago. The lower level of publicity is due not only to the lower casualty numbers and to earthquake news fatigue, but also to a dirty little secret that China would prefer not to have known.

The area where the quakes occurred is home to a non-Han group of people who practice polyandry. One wife, several husbands.

The majority of inhabitants of China are Han. The best known of the other ethnic groups that live in China are Tibetans, Mongols and Uighurs. The most recent earthquake took place in Yunan province, in an area the Chinese call Shangria (the name which inspired the Western idea of Shangri La). Most of locals there are Tibetans.

In ancient times, Han and Mongols practiced polygamy. It's likely that Uighurs, being mostly Muslim, still practice polygamy, although China's official One Child Policy may have driven that practice underground.

Tibetans sometimes practice polyandry, like several other ethnic groups in central Asia, such as the people of Sikkim.

According to this Japanese website, the official Chinese news agencies reporting on the earthquake do not want attention pointed to the local practice of polyandry. The official line is that this practice died as of 1949, when Communist China was born. A Japanese reporter, Yaita, was denied access to the area of the earthquake by Chinese officials. A Chinese editor who tried to report on the issue of polyandry in this area was replaced by officials because of this breach.

But don't get your salacious juices worked up. Polyandry in Central Asia is usually practiced for reasons that have nothing to do with sexual thrills. It is a way of keeping together inheritances, especially property rights. As Western history has demonstrated over and over, a father with many children causes the inheritance to be broken into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually impoverishing the generations down the line. The same sort of fractioning of inheritances is avoided when polyandry is the rule.

In actual practice, polyandry in Central Asia is a poor people's practice which, at best, keeps poor people from slipping even further into deeper poverty.

In any case, no great work of literature of the area extolling the virtues (if that's the right word) of polyandry is known to survive. The secret isn't out. Yet.


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