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The Honghe Hani rice terraces

Harmony between people and nature

The Honghe Hani rice terraces

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The Honghe Hani rice terraces in the Chinese province of Yunnan illustrate the fascinating ties between people and their surroundings. Over the past 1300 years, its residents, the Hani, have created a complex channel system that allows them to cultivate food in the rugged Yunnan mountains. In 2013 the spectacular landscape was named a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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Skilful sculptors

In the past the Ailao Mountains in Yunnan were so densely wooded that they were virtually uninhabited. For centuries now, the Hani have been braving this inhospitable environment. A network of channels guides the cool water from the peaks to the thousands of rice terraces that embrace the mountain contours. In some spots, the terraces comprise some 200 levels… It is a magical sight to behold.

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The colours of the rice terraces change with the seasons. In April, when the young rice has just been planted, the terraces are a bright green. When the rice matures in summer the colours turn to red. In the winter, when they are empty, the still waters reflect the colours of the sky. For this reason the emperor of the Ming Dynasty granted them the honorary title of ‘skilful sculptors’.

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Spiritual forces

Sun, moon, mountains, rivers, forests and fire: The Hani worship their natural surroundings as gods. From the water sources on the mountain tops ‘spiritual forces’ flow down via the rice terraces to deep in the valley. In addition to being a source of food, the rice terraces are also a homage to the harmonious relationship between people and gods, plants and animals, individuals and the community. Their religious meaning makes the rice terraces of Honghe Hani even more unique.

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Collaborative art

Water is precious as rice cannot grow without it. Believing that everyone has the right to an equal share, the Hani manage the water sources and channels of the agricultural work of art together. A specialist chosen by the Hani people, the laoga-laepha, is responsible for maintaining the water network. Traditionally, the Hani use all natural resources available. Ducks, chickens and pigs provide manure to ensure the subsoil is fertile for the young rice. After harvesting, buffaloes plough the terraces to prepare them for the next season.

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