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Hani Terraces: Stairway to Heaven
Text by Zhu Tier



Beautiful landscapes of Hani terraced fields in southern China’s Yunnan Province in four different seasons.         Beautiful landscapes of Hani terraced fields in southern China’s Yunnan Province in four different seasons.

Where are the Hani villages? High on mountains.

What do they look like? Like pony tails hanging from the peaks.

This old ballad remains popular with the Hani ethnic group of southwestern China, vividly depicting the people’s natural living and work environments.

On June 22, 2013, at the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Hani terraced fields along with their hillside villages and singular irrigation system were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a cultural landscape: Honghe Hani Terraced Fields.

Rising along the slope of the Ailao Mountains in Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture of southeastern Yunnan, the terraces are considered wonders of agricultural development, jointly invented across generations by Hani people and various other ethnic groups around the heritage site. Those inhabiting the area have perfected ways to maximize the benefits of the local climate and geography. They have created agricultural eco-systems integrating forests, villages, terraced fields and irrigation systems, around which myriad farming production technologies and traditional cultural activities developed as well. In some places, as many as 3,700 terraces stretch from the mountain foot all the way up to the peaks at over 2,000 meters above sea level. The entire heritage site covers an area of 166 square kilometers, which includes 82 villages.

Across the farmland, forests on hilltops, terraced fields and villages on hillsides, and irrigation systems at the foot of the hills form an integrated ecological system that meets World Heritage criteria, commented the heritage committee when assessing Hani terraces, adding that the precise and complicated agricultural, forestry, and water diversion systems, which have improved over time thanks to the singular local social and economic systems, showcase an important inter-relationship between humans and the environment.




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