China’s Honghe Hani Rice Terraces were among the 18 sites added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List a week ago, and local authorities in China have vowed to better protect them. The addition was announced at the 37th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which occurred in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from June 16-27.
The terraces are located in Southern Yuanyang County. They are renowned for their natural beauty, as the spectacular terraces that cascade down the slopes of the towering Ailao Mountains to the banks of the Hong River. They are also a wonder of agricultural and cultural achievement. Over the past 1,300 years, the Hani people have developed a complex system of channels to bring water from the forested mountaintops to the terraces. They have also created an integrated farming system that involves buffalos, cattle, ducks, fish and eel and supports the production of red rice, the area’s primary crop.
The Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China covers 16,603-hectares in Southern Yunnan. The inhabitants worship the sun, moon, mountains, rivers, forests and other natural phenomena including fire. They live in 82 villages situated between the mountaintop forests and the terraces. The villages feature traditional thatched “mushroom” houses. The resilient land management system of the rice terraces demonstrates extraordinary harmony between people and their environment, both visually and ecologically, based on exceptional and long-standing social and religious structures.
The Terraces have been waiting to be added for many years. China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage nominated the terraces for the list on March 28, 2008, but local authorities have been applying for the listing since 2001, according to LiShihua, vice chief of Yuanyang County. Since the announcement, officials in the area are pledging to uphold higher standards to protect the ancient site. Yang Fusheng, head of the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, said, “We will better protect the ecological environment in accordance with the Principle of the Conventions Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.”