Along the Ailao Mountain on the banks of Honghe River in Yunnan Province are millions of acres of agricultural and ecological wonders -- the Honghe Hani Terrace. Making full use of the special geological and climactic conditions in the area, the Hani people have found a perfect combination between human civilization and the environment. As a human creation, the terrace along the Honghe River has not only become a place of cultural interest, but also a part of the local natural landscape.
The Hani Terrace enjoys a long history, with the earliest written record in Chinese dating back more than 1,300 years. Xu Guangqi, a great agriculturalist of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), has categorized it as one of the seven forms of arable lands in ancient China. Stretching along the southern banks of the Honghe River in Yuanyang, Luchun, Honghe and Jinping counties, Hani Terrace occupies vast areas in this mountainous region. In Yuanyang County alone there are more than 170,000 mu (a Chinese unit of area equal to 1/15 of a hectare or 1/6 of an acre) of terrace -- the largest part totaling more than 10,000 mu. From the foot of the mountain to the very tip, there are as many as 3,000 terrace folds.
With its unique and profound value in science and culture, Hani people have maintained their way of living throughout the ages. Centered around the terrace, the festivals, costumes, song and dance, and literature of the Hani people all reveal their spirit of conformity and harmony with nature.
The Hani Terrace is one of the most representative Chinese terraces and a wonder in the world of agricultural civilization. The four-elemental forest-village-terrace-river structure of the agriculture ecosystem and its unique terrace cultural landscape is unparalleled around the world. The features of human beings living peacefully with their environment are highly evaluated in the 21st century. The Honghe Hani Terrace deserves worldwide protection and must be treasured on the basis of sustainable development, especially in the increasingly industrialized and modernized society.
For more than 1,000 years, the Hani did not really build a city of their own; they have always been living in village units due to geological reasons: The region along the south banks of the Honghe River is too mountainous for building a city. Thus, it can be fair to say that Hani people have focused their energies and wisdom on terraces while others erected buildings.
To some extent, the Hani Terrace represents the utmost harmony human beings could ever attain while settling in their environment. They have created a huge irrigation network on mountains with innumerable channels and trenches linking the terraces together where water flows from the higher folds to the lower ones, and then finally into the river again.
Thus, some ethnologists think that in relation to the climate, geology and ecology, no other society has ever presented a better choice than the Hani Terrace.
Noted for its profound culture, the Hani Terrace is also famous for its beautiful natural landscapes, including mountains, forests and misty seas in the Ailao Mountain area. As a result, the Hani Terrace is supposed to be listed as a "World Natural and Cultural Heritage" by UNESCO. The bidding work is being supported by the local government, and is now well underway.
The Hani Terrace boasts a history of more than 1,300 years, but still functions well today. The four-elemental (forests, villages, terraces and rivers) structure is one of the quintessential ways of living for traditional agricultural civilizations, which is valued around the world. It is also a good research sample to promote the living conditions of modern human beings.
The complete developmental history and well-preserved ethnic culture embodied in the Hani Terrace is also a good case for international ethnological research.
The protection of our ecosystem, economic water utilization, production methods, agrarian skills, religious customs and village conventions in the process of exploring and cultivating the terrace are all of strict scientific significance.
The selection of the village site, overall arrangement and unique construction flavor reveal unparalleled esthetics and have a special significance to village layout and construction. The Hani Terrace, still providing the basic needs to local people today, demonstrates the extraordinary continuity of the cultural heritage.
According to the earliest written records, the Hani Terrace began to emerge in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Early in the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), the ancestors of Hani and Yi ethnic groups began living in mountainous areas along the southern banks of the Honghe River and exploring small terraces. Until the Tang Dynasty (618-907), as the population increased, the area and scale of terraces also extended to the hills, which were about 700 to 1,000 meters above sea level. At the end of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty, as a result of the chaos caused by war, Hani ethnic minority ancestors moved from the nortern banks to the southern banks of the Honghe River to build terraces on the surrounding mountains that were generally 1,300-1,800 meters above sea level. This is the basic outline of modern terraces.
Hani people have henceforth been passing on their traditional ways of life year after year, and generation after generation. Until the Ming Dynasty , the Han ethnic group brought advanced technology, which helped build the large-scale terrace landscape in the mountains about 700-1,800 meters above sea level.
The Hani Terrace along the Honghe River is distributed throughout the large areas of Yuanyang County, Honghe County, Luchun County and Jinping County. Its altitude varies from 700-1,900 meters. Yuanyang County has the largest proportion of terraces, with a terrace on almost each mountain and each family with its own terrace. In the terms of the largest single terrace and overall coverage, the Hani Terrace is largest in the world.