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Terraced Fields in Yuanyang

Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields consist of three main scenic areas:

1, Bada Scenic Area, including more than 14,000 mu of terraced fields of the Jingkou, Quanfuzhuagn, Malizhai and Zhulu villages

2, Tiger Mouth Scenic Area, including about 6,000 mu of terraced fields of the Mengpin, Dongpu, Adongkong and Baoshanzhai villages

3, Duoyishu Scenic Area, including more than 10,000 mu of terraced fields of the Duoyishu, Aichun and Dawazhe villages

Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields are located in the southern part of the Ailao Mountain in the Yuanyang County of the Yunnan Province. They are the fruits of the hard efforts made by the Hani people in their history. The terraced fields were usually opened up according to landscapes of hills. On gentle slopes, the terraces are usually larger. On abrupt slopes, the terraces are usually smaller. Almost every piece of land has been turned into a terraced field and no land is wasted. A large terrace field could be several mu but a small terraced field could be even less than one square meter. On a single slope, the total area of terraced fields could be thousands of mu. The total area of the Yuanyang Terraced Fields is very large and they spread to many counties, including the Honghe, Yuanyang, Lvchun and Jinping. Only in the Yuanyang County, the total area of terraced fields is about 170,000 mu, and they are the core part of the all terraced fields of Honghe. Since the Yuanyang County has nothing but mountains, all terraced fields of the county are on slopes of hills. The slopes are between 15°and 75°. In some places, the number of the terraces on a single slope could be 3,000, which is very rare in China and even the world.

Since 1980s, the reputation of Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields has been growing. Now, they are well-known all over China and even in the world. A lot of Chinese and foreign experts have visited these places successively. During the first International Hani Culture Studying Conference held in 1993, more than 100 experts from China, Holland, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Thailand and other countries visited the Hani terraced fields of the Quanfuzhuang Village of the Shengcun Township and they were all astonished by the beauty and abundant cultural contents of the fields. When a French anthropologist was visiting the Tiger Mouth terraced fields of the Yuanyang County, he was so excited that he did not even want to leave. He said that the terraced fields of the Hani nationally were real artworks of the land, real statues of the land, and the Hani people were real great artists. In the Yuanyang County, if you stand on the top of any hill, you will be able to see terraced fields which are as magnificent as the immense ocean.

The terraced fields are like huge historical records showing the Hani people’s long lift history of fighting against the hard natural environment and social pressure. According the legend “Sky, Land and People” of the Hani nationality, the big fish created the sky, land and the first couple of human beings, the name of the man was Zhita and the name of the woman was Tapo. Tapo gave birth to 22 children and the third of them was a dragon. When the dragon grew up, he became the Dragon God. In order to thanks Tapo for bringing him up, he gave Tapo three bamboo tubes of things. The things in one of the bamboo tubes were rice seeds. Therefore, the Hani people believe that when the world was created, the rice was also created. According to the legend, the Hani nationality was the one of the first nationalities that planted rice. In the past thousands of years, the Hani people changed wild rice into dry-land rice and then changed dry-land rice into water-land rice. Relying on their ecological environment given by the god, the Hani people made the Three-River Reaches one of the first lands of the world that grew rice. 

Cause of formation
The magnificence and uniqueness of the Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields were first caused by the special natural geographic structure of the place. The Yuanyang County is in the south of the Yunnan Province and the geographic feature of the Yunnan Province is that its northwestern part is high and southern part is low. The altitude starts lowing gradually from Zhongdian and Lijiang of the northwestern part to Dali and Chuxiong of the central part and to the Simao, Banna, Honghe and Wenshan of the southern part. Therefore, the northwestern part of the Province has the Cold Temperate Zone and Frigid Zone climates and the southern part of the Province has subtropical and tropical climates. Starting from the northwest to the south, the vertical climate character becomes more obvious and rainfall also increases gradually. The place with the largest precipitation amount of the province is the Hani nationality area located on the southern bank of the Red River. The average annual precipitation in this area is as high as 1397.6mm. Therefore, it has many rice farmlands and few dry farmlands. From the reaches of the Nujiang River, Lantsang River in the northwest of the province and Yangtze River to the reaches of rivers in the south of the province, the rice growing becomes more advanced gradually, and ultimately the Hani nationality area in the southern part of the Ailao Mountain on the southern bank of the Red River turns into the most advanced rice planting area in the Yunnan Province and in China. 
Secondly, the special landscapes and climatic situations of the Ailao Mountain also decide that the Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields are the most magnificent and splendid. The landscapes of the Yuanyang County are characterized by high mounts and deep valleys. The mountains of the county have been deeply divided by rivers such as the Red River and Tengtiaojiang River and there many high mounts stand straight, laying foundation for the development of terraced fields. 

The Hani terraced fields have following characters: First, above every village, there must be a dense forest which provides the firewood, lumbers and other materials. The sacred Village Forest is one character. Second, below the village, there are countless terraced fields which provide the fundamental thing for the Hani people to live and development: grain. The village is made up of ancient and neat mushroom houses in which the Hani people live. Ecologists call this structure a harmonious and sustainable river-forest-village-terraced field ecological system. That’s the beautiful homeland where the Hani people have live for thousands of years.

In the area, the lowest altitude is 144 meters and highest altitude is 2939.6 meters, making the maximum altitude difference 2795.6 meters. Most parts of the county have the subtropical monsoon climate, but due to the complicated landscapes, the vertical climate situation is obvious. In the river bank area, the annual mean temperature is 25℃ and maximum temperature is 42℃. On the mountains, the annual mean temperature is 11.6℃. The temperature difference between the river bank and mountain top is 13.4℃. Between the river bank and mountain top there are many the Torrid Zone, Temperate Zone and Frigid Zone, like the saying that “a mountain has four seasons and the whether five kilometers away is different.” The river canyon is called the Dry Heat River Canyon because it is hot and dry. The high mountain area is called the Cold Wet Area due to its low temperature and large precipitation. River bank areas have high amounts of evaporation. High mountain areas have dense fogs and abundant rainfalls. In the area, the two main water systems of the Red River and Tengtiaojiang River have 29 branches. The total length of the rivers is more than 700 kilometers and total amount of the water resources is about 2.69 billion cubic meters, including about 2.1 billion cubic meters of surface water, 609 million cubic meters of underground water and 147 million cubic meters of usable water. These rivers are the sources of all the water of the Yuanyang County. The high temperature of the dry river valley usually evaporates a huge amount of water from rivers (For example, the amount of evaporation was as high as 2306.5mm in 1995). When huge amount of steam is rising, it will be suppressed by the cold air mass in the Cold Wet Mountain Area. Therefore, the Yuanyang County has 180 foggy days per year on average and its annual average precipitation is 1397.6mm. That’s why the mountains of the county are always surround by the cloud seas and the cloud seas are so magnificent.

The Yuanyang County has about 63,958 hectares of forests in total, including 18,167 hectares of virgin forests in the Guanyin Mountain and 45,790 hectares of virgin forests and secondary forests in other mountains. These forests are huge natural green reservoirs and the water they contain also forms many streams, springs, waterfalls and lakes providing water for all farmlands and human uses, like the saying, “How high the mountain is, how high the water is.” 

The seven nationalities living in the Yuanyang County live at zones of different altitudes. The Dai nationality mostly lives in the river bank area between 144 and 600 meters high. The Zhuang nationality mostly lives in the valley area between 600 and 1,000 meters high. The Yi nationality mostly lives in the lower slope area between 1,000 and 1,400 meters. The Hani nationality mostly lives in the higher slope area between 1,400 and 2,000 meters. The Miao and Yao nationalities mostly live in the area higher than 2,000 meters. The Han nationality usually lives in towns and places along the highway. The higher slope area where the Hani nationality lives in is warm and has abundant rainfalls. The annual mean temperature is about 15℃ and the annual sunshine duration is about 1,670 hours. It is the perfect area for the rice to grow. Therefore, the Hani people have started opening up rice farmlands in as early as the Sui Dynasty. In the past 1,200 years, the Hani people created these amazing farmlands by using their amazing wisdom and courage. Meanwhile, the Hani people also dug thousands of water channels in the mountain by their creative spirits and hard efforts. The number of the completed water channels is 4,653, including 662 water channels, each of which can irrigate 50 mu of farmlands or above. The water channels are like silver belts surrounding mountains and effectively solve the irrigation problem of the farmlands. Because of the terraced fields and water channels opened up by the hardworking Hani people, the rice always grows very well and comes to a bumper harvest. You cannot imagine how perfectly the Hani people have designed the terraced fields. On gentle slopes, the terraces are relatively large. On abrupt slopes, the terraces are relatively small. Every piece of land is effectively used and not a single inch of land is wasted. A large terraced field could be several mu and a small terraced field may less than one square meter. The countless terraced filed form a magic and astonishing scenery which has been known almost all over the world.

Historic and cultural factors
The Hani nationality is one of more than 10 minorities with a population of more than 1 million in China. The total population of the Hani nationality is about 1.33 million. The Hani nationality has been a nationality cultivating terraced fields since the ancient times and the terraced field culture is its representative culture. According to the Chinese ancient book Shang Shu, the Hani people had opened up terraced fields started to grow rice in the reaches of the Dadu River, Yalong River and Anning River of the Sichun Province in the Spring and Autumn Period and War States Period more than 3,000 years ago. Since the Hani nationality settled down and opened up large amounts of terraced fields in the Ailao Mountain area on the southern bank of the Red River in the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (1,200 years ago), the terraced field culture has been the soul of the nationality. 

In the long history of thousands of years, the entire Hani people opened up terraced fields with all their hearts. Relying on their simple hoes, tough bodies, fighting spirit and outstanding wisdom, the Hani people filled their lives into the terraced fields. From the Hani nationality’s “child naming ceremony”, we could how important the terraced field is to the Hani people. When a child is born in a Hani family, the members of the family will hold a “working in the terraced field” ceremony to name the child. If the newly-born child is a boy, a boy of about seven or eight years old will perform “digging terraced field” in the “terraced field” of the courtyard; If the newly-born child is a girl, a girl of about seven or eight years old will perform “catching winkles and eels” in the “terraced field” of the courtyard. Only after this ceremony, the newly-born child could have a name and become a member of the village. The Hani people devote all their lives to terraced field. After they die, they will be buried beside terraced fields to watch the field in the other world. That’s how the Hani people turned the wild Ailao Mountain into numerous terraced fields in the past. An expert once said, “Every terrace has our ancestors buried and every terrace has the blood and lives of our ancestors. Our ancestors have filled their power and spirit into the mountains. That’s why we and even the entire human race should be proud of the terraced fields.” 

In cultivating terraced fields, the Hani nationality has formed a full set of scientific methods and systems. First, before opening up a terraced field, they must choose a place which can stand against the wind, faces the sun, are gentle, does not has harmful elements and can contain sufficient water. After opening it up, they must plant dry crops for three years to improve the soil and then fill water into it and turn it into a rice field. The Hani people lead the water to the farmland by digging water channels. When they meet hard rocks during the process of digging water channels, they will burn the rock first and pour cold water on it to break it. Then, the digging will be much easier. 

The Hani people also have invested an effective water management system. All procedures of the system, including the water channel digging, labor distribution, channel ownership, water distribution, channel management and maintenance, are all very precise. For example, they invested the rules to guarantee the fields of every family get enough water. 

In addition to water, another important thing for planting rice is fertilizer. Since the Hani village is always above the terraced field, the Hani people invested the “fertilizer washing” method. Every Hani village has public fertilizer pools which contain highly effective manure. In the spring, the Hani people dig holes on the pools and use water to wash the manure down to terraced fields. The moment is actually as noisy and interesting as a festival. There are also people in charge of leading the manure so that it could reach terraced fields completely. This method saves a lot of manpower. Usually, the dumps of horses, cows, pigs and sheep are piled on the hill. When the rainy season of June and July arrives, heavy rains will wash the dump manure into big channels dug by the Hani people and then the manure will follow the water and flow into terraced fields. June and July are the periods when rice needs fertilizer badly. The natural manure washing satisfies its demand just timely. The Hani nationality is a nationality that coexists with the nature closely and harmoniously. They call themselves the “Momiranli,” meaning sons and daughters of the nature. They build their village on the slope below the forest and above terraced fields. In their long cultivation history, they formed their own cultural and religious festivals. In January, they hold the AimaTu Festival to worship their Forest God Aima and prepared themselves physically and mentally for the spring plough. In June, they hold the Kuzhazha Festival (June New Year) to worship the Sky God and prepared themselves for the autumn harvest. In October, they hold the Zalete Festive (October New Year) to worship their ancestors and welcome a new year. These activities play a very important role in protecting the forest, water resources, land and village and in promoting the communications between the human and nature and among members of the nationality. 

The Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields have been a huge vigorous system since the ancient times and are still the material and mental foundation of the Hani people today. The 166,689 mu of terraced fields support an agricultural population of 336,971, the 63,958 hectares of forests provide water for daily and agricultural uses of the entire county and 4,653 water channels irrigate the terraced fields on the hills. These are the outstanding characters of the Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields. They are not like the Great Wall, Imperial Palace, Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Tomb, Pyramids of Egypt and TajMahal which have lost their functions, nor like the Mount Tai, Mount Huang and Niagra Falls which are pure natural landscapes, nor like the Confucian Temple of Qufu, Potala Palace of Lhasa and Summer Palace of Beijing which are pure man-made buildings. They are great landscapes jointly created by the nature and human and an outcome of the harmonious coexistence of the nature and human.

Up to about 14th century, the terraced field opening technology had spread all over China and the Southeast Asia. But almost no terraced fields are as large and beautiful as the Yuanyang Terraced Fields. The amazing terraced fields opened by the Hani people once were called the Master Sculptures on Mountain by an emperor of the Ming Dynasty and they are really masterpieces of art between the sky and land. In different seasons, the terraced fields also have different beauties. The Hani people usually transplant rice seedlings in summer and therefore they are all green in the summer.

In October, since the crops are ripe, the fields are all golden. But the best season for watching terraced field is the winter, because terraced fields are filled with water in winter and their elegant outlines could show clearly.

Before the sunrise, beautiful outlines of terraced fields are about to show in the darn. Looking at these from a high position, they are like an elegant water-ink painting. After the sun rise up, the sunshine will touch the village in the west and the color will changes as the sun rises. What an intoxicating scenery it is!

The sunsets in the Bata and Tiger mouth are both astonishing. As the sunset glow fades away, the colors of terraced fields also become extremely magnificent. When the colors interweave with lines of terraced field, a vivid picture will emerge. Compared to these, The Longba terraced fields are different. They look smaller and brighter like a garden hidden in the mountain. Because the Longba has many duckweeds, it terraced fields are dark red. Therefore, in the season when duckweeds change colors, many photographers will come to shoot pictures. 

Currently, the Yunyang County has residents of the Hani, Yi, Dai, Miao, Yao, Zhuang and Han nationalities. The Hani population accounts for a relatively large part. The Hani people, who have lived in villages around the seat of the Yuanyang County for a very long time, are used to work in mountains. Sometimes, they come to the town to purchase some goods and then go back to their terraced fields and continue their quiet life.

The most special Hani village of the Yuanyang County is the Jingkou which is not far from the county seat. Standing on the highway, tourists could see the whole village. The Hani houses are quite unique. They usually have three floors, the first floor is to raise stocks, the second floor is for the people to live and the third floor is the storehouse. Because the roof is made of straws, the house looks like mushrooms, and therefore it is called the “mushroom houses.” It is the landmark building of the Hani village. I love these strange houses very much. They are like mushrooms of various sizes standing on the ground, making me feel like being in a fairy tale world. 
Walking along a path beside the highway, it still needs about 30 minutes to reach the Jingkou Village. On the two sides of the path are all terraced fields. Sometimes, I could see women working on the fields. Like many other nationalities of the Yuannan Province, the Hani women are in charge in farmland work and Hani men are in charge of taking care of children. Life is easier for the men.

Although opening up terraced fields means cutting down trees, the Hani people actually attach great importance to tree protection and usually associate trees with their ancestors. They hold a grand ceremony to worship the God of Tree in March every year. According to locals, the Jingkou Village has 180 households and more than 800 people, a relatively large village in Yuanyang. In the center of the village is the square they designed for their festivals. Due to the development of the tourism, the Hani people are actively promoting their traditional culture. Many activities, such as the Long Street Feast, Kuzhazha, October New Year and Cow Sacrifice, once were held in the square, and there are still two bronze drums in the east of the square. Behind the square is the Hani Nationality Cultural Museum opened by the Hani people. 

The forest, stream, village and terraced field are the four things that the Hani people cherish most. In the opinion of traditional Hani people, the terraced fields they opened do not mean they conquered the nature at all. They believe that gods are in charge of the nature and they are under protection of the gods. That’s why they could engrave the mountains into so outstanding terraced fields. They pursue only the harmony between them and the nature.

The Best Time to Visit

Jan – March: the fields are full of water and it looks like if the slopes are covered with countless layers of mirrors

Early in May: the farmers are ploughing and seeding

June – Aug: summerly green fields in blossom

July – Sep: harvest season, crops are getting ripe and shine in golden colour

Sep – Oct: best time for photography of golden fields at Qinkou, Quanfuzhuang, and Aichun