China’s Honghe Hani Rice Terraces is now a World Heritage site, with its induction into UNESCO’s World Heritage List on June 22, 2013. The Honghe Hani terraces are an outstanding reflection of elaborate and finely tuned agricultural, forestry and water-distribution systems that are reinforced by long-standing and distinctive socioeconomic-religious systems.
On the banks of Honghe River in South China’s Yunnan Province are millions of acres of agricultural and ecological wonders – known as the Honghe Hani Terraces. Rising up the Ailao Mountains, they span four counties in the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture in southeastern Yunnan Province. The nominated area is in Yuanyang County, which covers 16,603 hectares (the buffer zone covers 29,501 hectares) and displays the most concentrated and best-developed terraces in three valleys.
Yuanyang is at the foot of the Ailao Mountains on the south bank of the Honghe River. It is the terraced fields, in fact, along with the mushroom-shaped houses, that visitors to Yuanyang find the most interesting.
Called Ladders toward Heaven by the Hani people, the terraced fields in Yuanyang are vast in area. Small-sized terraced fields in odd shapes connect with one another and form larger fields, each covering an area of about 0.6 square kilometers. Compared with the other terraced fields in the world, Yuanyang Terraced Fields are on steep slopes, ranging from 15 to 75 degrees in gradient. The number of terraces on a single slope may even exceed 3,000. And Yuanyang terraced fields are high in elevation, stretching from the river valleys up the mountainsides 2,000 meters above the sea level, the highest area where rice can grow.
Standing on the top of a mountain, you will sigh in admiration at the magnificence of those terraced fields. But at the same time, you may wonder how the Hani people bring water for irrigation and daily use to such high elevations.
A saying of the Hani ethnic group goes that water can reach as high as any mountain. The arrangement of the Hani people for bringing water to where they need it will make you marvel at their wisdom. The locations where the Hani people have built their villages and opened their terraced fields are cleverly chosen between forests and river valleys. Above are dense forests, and below are deep river valleys. Because of the high temperature in the river valleys, water vaporizes and forms clouds and fog. When the clouds and fog rise to the forests on the mountains, they are cooled down to water droplets by the tree branches and leaves. Numerous droplets come together and become streams, then flow downward. The Hani people draw stream water to their villages for daily use, and they channel water to irrigate their terraced fields. The forests, villages, terraced fields, and river valleys, one below the other, form an ecosystem that works day after day, year after year.
The Hani terraces have traditionally been planted with ancient varieties of rice, often red rice that is full of fiber. Hani red rice is a delicious, nutty, all-natural grain. Before the rest of the world was expounding the benefits of unpolished rice, the Hani people were already eating it as a staple. As soon as the rice is planted, a whole ecosystem starts.