Though some are striving to protect their heritage, China’s range of UNESCO protected sites just continues to grow. Hot on the heels of the world heritage listing of the Tianshan Nature Reserve, the Hani Terraces of Yunnan Province have also received the honor. China now has the second-highest number of UNESCO listings in the world, behind Italy.
From above, the paddy fields look like abstract paintings, but it’s not just their scenic beauty that makes these terraced rice fields so unique.
The UNESCO's World Heritage Committee inscribed China's cultural landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces onto the prestigious World Heritage List on Saturday
The local Hani People call them "stairways to heaven". Located on the banks of the Honghe River in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, this ecological wonder spreads out over millions of acres, making it the largest landform of its kind anywhere. The vast layers of terraces, built to accommodate the region’s weather and mountainous terrain, can reach up to 6500 feet above sea level.
The terraces have been cultivated by the Hani people for at least 1300 years. They are the product of history, agricultural innovation and much strenuous labor.
Zhang Hongzhen, director of Administrative Bureau of Hani Terraces, said, "It’s a living ecological system. The forests on the hilltops conserve the water resources. And the terraced fields on the hillsides make full use of the water, forming vast artificial everglades. Aquatic animals and plants co-exist with these rice paddies to meet the basic needs of the local people."
It’s also an ethnic cultural system that comprises many tangible cultural heritages. These include the villages, dwellings and buildings for production, while intangible heritages include ancient farming skills, lifestyles, customs and more.
Huang Jun, director of Department of Culture, Yunnan, said, "By integrating the terraced fields into the natural landscape, the Hani people have developed a unique masterpiece. They have organically fused ethnic art, landscape art and agricultural techniques, creating a perfect balance between human civilization and the natural environment."
China submitted the terraced fields for World Heritage Site status in 2008. Now, this man-made ecological wonder is China’s 45th site to join that prestigious list.