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The woman running the show
28/11/2005 8:49

Wu Yingying/Shanghai Daily news

Singer, best-selling author, cultural ambassador, socialite ... and now Yang Erche Namu has added one more to the list - actress.
Yang - a daughter of the Mosuo minority and better known as Namu - is in Shanghai for a month starring in a Sino-US movie, "Milk and Fashion," with Jeremy Miller (the former child star in "Growing Pains"), renowned Chinese actor Wang Luoyong and ballerina Hou Honglan. Yang plays the role of a restaurant owner and Miller is a chef.
Instead of her typical Chinese-style look in costumes of rosy pink or lime green, she wears a loose white shirt with tight black pants and a leopard-patterned fur coat while huge folk-style red earrings and her signature straight black hair show off her exotic style.
Yang is so confident when talking about her life that one senses an aggressive core coiled inside her that is ready to burst out at any time.
Her deep-seated ambition became evident at an early age. Tired of herding yaks in her tiny village near Lake Lugu in Southwest China's Yunnan Province at the foot of the Tibetan Plateau, 13-year-old Yang walked away to Yanyuan, the nearest county. There she joined a song-and-dance troupe and later won a scholarship to study music at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
"Shanghai is my second hometown, and it really opened my eyes. It was here that I realized how magnificent the world outside was," she recalls.
It was also in Shanghai Yang learned to speak and write Mandarin. She now lives in Beijing and has homes in other cities, including San Francisco in California.
"Life is a circle. I've been to so many places, but now I am back again and it's a perfect time to come back," she says.
Exactly. Yang's eventful life began in Yunnan and continued in Shanghai before she moved to Beijing where she was a well-known lounge singer. She married an American, divorced him, had a seven-year-long romance with a Norwegian diplomat and became an author when she decided to write about her adventures.
In 1997, 14 years after leaving her village, Yang sat down to write what was to become a bestseller. "Leaving Mother Lake" is an extraordinary memoir and fascinating portrait of a young girl growing up in a matriarchal society in a remote region of China who runs away to find her fortune and becomes a star.
Yang writes openly about her foreign lovers in the book, presenting her love affairs as a natural part of a sumptuous lifestyle. After all, she belongs to the Mosuo, a matrilineal tribe with a tradition of allowing women to take several lovers and bear children without marrying.
A menu of lifestyles
Yang has published a total of 13 books in different languages, and she is a bestselling author in China and overseas. She is also a cultural ambassador for both China and the Mosuo culture. She regularly comes to Shanghai to address to visiting VIPs such as the WPO (World President Organization) and the Nobel Prize winners during their visit to China. Yang says she is proud to be able to present her tribal culture, its fashions and lifestyle to the outside world.
"I accept responsibility for what I've written. Every time I write, I keep putting my hand on my heart. My books are just like a menu of lifestyles. It depends on whether you are acute enough to catch the flavor," she says.
Yang not only writes about her own life but also seeks to teach women how to be more confident and look sexy - and she's not shy to talk about this.
"My books have changed many young people's lives, especially those who live in rural areas or remote regions. My story has inspired people that they can go outside and win their own fortune," she says.
When she was a little girl, Yang was well known in her village because her mother tried to give her away three times since she would not stop crying.
"I was a mature child. I didn't play with other children of my age. But I liked to stay with lamas who told me lots of stories," she says. "I was so different in my hometown but now I'm happy with my life. I have made all my dreams come true."
Yang says she is glad that through her efforts the Mosuo people are better known in China and around the world. She says she is always thinking about how she can do more for the Mosuo.
Today, the area around Lake Lugu, the Mosuo homeland where Yang grew up, is a rather chic tourist destination, thanks almost entirely to Yang and her book. Visitors in growing numbers have overrun the region and are spoiling the Mosuos' normally quiet life.
But, says Yang, tourism has had some benefits. "At least, we can see the money to be made from Mosuo tourism. Now children can go to school and the elderly can go to hospital for better treatment," she admits.
Yang is also trying to make another dream come true: She has invited international artists to come to Yunnan to live in an art museum/guesthouse she has built near Lake Lugu. While staying there, the artists have been asked to create at least one piece of artwork that will be displayed in the art museum located on top of a mountain from where visitors can look down upon the lake.
"It's so beautiful a place. I built it for artists around the world so they can escape from noisy and packed cities and to get infinite inspirations there," she says.
Yang spent four years and all her savings on the construction of the museum/guesthouse. "I have put all my heart and soul into this project. I had once stayed on that mountain doing painting and cleaning on my own for 15 days without even taking off my shoes," she recalls.
There is a staff of six to take care of the visiting artists and each one pays US$130 a month to cover costs.
"The museum has mixed tones of the Mosuos, Tibetans and Indians. There are rooms for coffee, reading and it is filled with French music. After all, I want to deliver a message that the idea of this museum is a mixed culture, not limited, not narrow-minded and it belongs to all citizens of the world," she says.

Artists who are interested in the museum can contact Yang Erche Namu by e-mail: