One bright winter afternoon in 1992, in the mountains of Yunnan Province, China, Li Yong told me a story. Li Yong and I were crowded into a courtyard in his largely Yi (or Lòlop'ò) village, at a mortuary ritual for one of his affines. In the courtyard's center, where the corpse had lain in its coffin seven days before, a crude trough had been scratched into the earth, with a shallow hole at the end where the corpse's mouth had been. The dead woman's daughter, her husband's sisters and their daughters, and some of their female friends sat on benches on either side, singing formal poetic laments about labor and pain. To accompany her tears, the daughter ladled water from a bucket into the hole in front of her. The water overflowed into the trough and gradually turned the lower surface of the courtyard to mud. Women from the dead woman's son's family moved about the courtyard pouring alcohol for the hundreds of guests, who drank while squatting, sitting or standing, their feet in the mud.

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