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A Successful Submission to the BBC :  The Flower Room

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Karen Rose of Sweet Talk Productions submitted the following offer to the BBC for a series of 5 x 14 minute episodes in the Woman's Hour Drama documentary slot.  The BBC like a short resume, followed by a more detailed proposal.

For the full script and audio of episode 1, click here.

Short Synopsis (about 30 words)

The mountain of the Goddess Gamu Lake Lugu

A totally unique five-part drama doc, which intercuts international pop star Erche Namu's unique personal story of growing up with the Moso (a matriarchal hill tribe in China), with actuality of the tribe in the 21st century as it finds itself having to adjust to new challenges.

Longer Synopsis

Yang Erche Namu

"A man and a woman should not marry, for love is like the seasons - it comes and it goes".

My mother told me about love-making.  One day I should have to light the fire in my room.  The fire should not be too hot or too low, but give a beautiful light, to make you relax and soften your body. If you're relaxed, then he will also relax.  He will take his time with you.  It's always better when a man takes his time, you know. And you must please yourself first. He will always be pleased to please you.'  She reached over toward me and touched a pimple on my cheek.  'Making love is very good for the skin.' "

In 1979 Erche Namu of the remote Moso hill tribe in South West China reached puberty and had her skirt ceremony.  She'd spent most of her childhood helping her uncle tend yaks on the high pastures, only coming down the mountain to visit her family home once or twice a year.

Shaun with Namu's mother

Namu was to become a famous Chinese pop star, dancer and model, who would travel the world on the arms of rich businessmen.  But her origins were so primitive that during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards arrived and left because there was nothing to destroy.

It is an area known as the 'Country of Daughters' because of its matriarchal society.  There is no word for father, property is passed on from mother to daughter, women choose lovers for as long as they like, and men mostly sleep in the stables.

Shaun with Moso singers

After her skirt ceremony, Namu stayed in the family house, where she was given her own Flower Room.  There, like her older sisters in their flower rooms, she could if she wished receive lovers.  Later, talent hunters from the regional Cultural Bureau came to listen to the village girls singing traditional songs.

Namu was chosen to represent her village and traveled for five days on horseback to Xijang, the nearest large town. She competed with girls from eight other hill tribes and won first prize.  She was selected to represent Sichuan - a region with 87 million people.  In Beijing she again won first prize.

Traditional Moso house

Life back on Lake Lugu seemed tame.  As cook in the local school, she managed to save enough money for the 3 day, hard seat train journey to Shanghai.  She'd been promised an audition at China's prestigious Conservatory of Music.

So at the age of 13, having quarreled with her mother and run away from home, she arrived penniless on the streets of Shanghai.  At first, thrown by her shabby attire, the doorman would not let Namu into the Conservatory. However she dashed past him, got her audition and won a scholarship as their first Moso student.

By the time she graduated she had already begun her career as a singer, taking her sultry voice to nightclubs in Shanghai and later Beijing.  "I was singing mostly pop songs memorised from bootleg Taiwanese tapes".  She also featured on several movie sound tracks including that of The Joy Luck Club.

The Shape of the Drama Doc

Namu's extraordinary life story will be adapted from her biography Leaving Mother Lake, a lyrical first person account of a childhood with the tribe, one of the very few truly matriarchal societies in the world.  Their language has no words for husband or father, but they have "walking marriages", in which men visit their partners in their "flower rooms" at night and return to their mothers' houses at dawn.  Unlike elsewhere in China daughters are valued more than sons.  The Cultural Revolution did not succeed for long in imposing the one child policy.

But as with any culture, however remote, the tribe is having to modernize.  Today remote Lake Lugu is becoming a tourist destination.  In the main village on the lake there is now a red light district for sex tourists who hope their palms will be scratched (the traditional invitation).  However this is not the Moso way and most of the hookers are imported Chinese dressed in Moso costume.

Meanwhile John Lombard a Canadian is helping the Moso to adjust in more positive ways to the modern world. By next year all primary school children in China will learn English as well as Mandarin Chinese.  John is currently helping to recruit teachers.

He is dedicated to encouraging the Moso to evolve in a positive way.

Ex-Senior Producer Shaun MacLoughlin is currently working in Lake Lugu, teaching English to children and collecting recordings on the Moso tribe.  This totally unique five-part drama doc will intercut Namu's personal story reflecting the old way of life with actuality of the tribe in the 21st century as it finds itself adapting to a new age.  The Chinese pop music of Namu and traditional music will weave drama and actuality together.

There are plenty of discussion areas for a Woman's Hour Audience.

  1. The story of Namu.  She speaks good English as does the French anthropologist Christine Mathieu, who wrote Namu's biography.
  2. John Lombard's experience of helping the Moso to evolve in a positive way.
  3. Possible lessons for us in the West as mother only families evolve.
  4. Traditional Moso and modern Chinese Pop music by Namu.

Source material, 'Leaving Mother Lake - A Girlhood at the Edge of the World' by Christine Mathieu is attached to proposal.

Feedback from BBC and Production

"This was fascinating.  We hope we will be able to hear her singing over the course of the week!  For information we had 30 offers for 200 episodes against 4 weeks worth of slots. The company has done really well here." In fact I never managed to obtain recordings of Namu, as she had given up singing to become a TV celebrity and fashion journalist and I never caught up with her.  However in Ting Ting Hu, I found an excellent actress to portray her and I recorded the songs of several Moso girls, some as they rowed across Lake Lugu.  Also within the 70 minutes we had to fill there was not room for much about the Moso today, as Namu's biography, which I dramatized and directed with Karen's and Ros Ward's invaluable help as executive producers, told such a compelling story.

Thanks

I should particularly like to thank Mao Yunfei and Kimberley Liu for their unstinting and generous help as interpreters and advisers on this project.

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The above is taken from Writing for Radio by Shaun MacLoughlin.  We also highly recommend Leaving Mother Lake at once both a gripping and extraordinary story and a work of literary anthropology by Christine Mathieu.  Christine Mathieu is an anthropologist who spent many years researching the Moso. Please also see her study below.