Rice terraces in Duoyishu village
Yuanyang County, Yunnan

Terraced fields can be seen throughout those parts of southwest China’s Yunnan Province which are occupied by people of the Hani ethnic group. Most renowned of all is the Yuanyang Terrace. Scholars say the success of terrace development brought an important change to the social and historical development of the Hani. Terraced fields helped this people settle down from their previously nomadic life. The terraced landscape provided a new basis for their cultural development and led them to evolve new life styles and adopt new values.
( by Li Jinhui, July 12, 2002)
China is seen variously as an ancient civilization extending over a large area in East Asia, a nation and/or a multinational entity. With nearly 4,000 years of continuous history, China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Prior to the 19th century, it possessed one of the most advanced societies and economies in the world; but through successive dynasties it then missed the industrial revolution and began to decline. In the 19th and 20th century, imperialism, internal weakness and civil wars damaged the country and its economy, and led to the overthrow of imperial rule.
In 1949, after major combat ended in the Chinese Civil War, two states calling themselves “China” emerged:
• The People’s Republic of China (PRC), established in 1949, commonly known as China, has control over mainland China and the largely self-governing territories of Hong Kong (since 1997) and Macau (since 1999).
• The Republic of China (ROC) established in 1912 in mainland China, now commonly known as Taiwan, has control over the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, the Pratas island group, and a few other outlying islands.
Zhu Yunkuan, Deputy Chief Editor of Yunnan Art & Literature Review wrote, “A nomadic tribe from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau migrated to Ailao Mountain about 2,000 years ago. They created that magnificent sculpture of terraced fields, hailed as a model of perfection. Moreover, they were the people who passed on rice-farming technology to the nations of Southeast Asia.
Their rice-farming civilization founded of terraced fields can be seen as the crystallization of the wisdom of the Hani people in their long fight for survival. Wang Qinghua, a researcher with Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences summarized the personal characteristics of the Hani ethnic group as “gentle, straightforward and indomitable.” Their approach to nature is also very much in this vein.
Out of the need for survival and development, they created the terrace. Around this a series of cultural activities has sprung up. In a long process of social development, they have found their own approach to nature. This is to be grateful to nature, to conform to the ways of nature and to show respect for nature.
( by Li Jinhui, July 12, 2002)
Yuanyang County is in the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province. Thousands of years ago, the Hani people living in this place created a wonder by developing large areas of terraced fields on the mountainsides and in the valleys. Nowadays, those terraced fields still support the Hani people both materially and spiritually. The fields are food sources for a population of 350,000, the 640 square kilometers of forests on the mountains hold the water for daily use and irrigation, and a total of 4,653 canals in the county carry water to irrigate the terraced fields. The terraced fields also play a central part in the religious ceremonies of the Hani people.
Unlike those now inoperative historic relics such as China’s Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Egypt’s pyramids, and India’s Taj Mahal, also unlike those simply natural resorts such as Taishan Mountain, Huangshan Mountain, and Niagara Falls, and unlike those simply cultural establishments such as the Confucian Temple in Qufu, the Potala Place in Tibet, and the Summer Palace in Beijing – unlike all of these, the terraced fields in Yuanyang are witness to the harmonious relationship between the Hani people and the Ailao Mountains and to a perfect combination of nature and human culture. It is the terraced fields, in fact, along with the mushroom-shaped houses, that visitors to Yuanyang find the most interesting.
Long time ago, the ancestors of the Hani people went deep into the mountains to avoid war. There, they created a miracle: over thousands of years, the Hani people, together with the people from the Yi, Han, Dai, Miao, Yao, and Zhuang ethnic groups, developed 130 square kilometers of terraced fields on 2,891 square kilometers of undeveloped land on the mountainsides and formed the brilliant Terraced Fields Rice-Planting Culture.
The terraced fields in Yuanyang are called Ladders toward Heaven by the Hani people and are known for four characteristics:
First, they are vast in area. Small-sized terraced fields in odd shapes connect with one another and form larger fields, each covering an area of about 0.6 square kilometers.
Second, compared with other terraced fields in the world, they are on steep slopes, ranging from 15 to 75 degrees in gradient.
Third, there are many terraces. The number of terraces on a single slope may even exceed 3,000.
Fourth, they are high in elevation. The terraced fields stretch from the river valleys up the mountainsides 2,000 meters above the sea level, the highest area where rice can grow.
A saying of the Hani ethnic group goes that water can reach as high as any mountain. The arrangement of the Hani people for bringing water to where they need it will make you marvel at their wisdom. The locations where the Hani people have built their villages and opened their terraced fields are cleverly chosen between forests and river valleys. Above are dense forests. The small wooded areas – symbols of the village god- and the forests under the village’s ownership are strictly protected, and villagers who want to cut trees must obtain approval beforehand.
Below are deep river valleys. Because of the high temperature in the river valleys, water vaporizes and forms clouds and fog. When the clouds and fog rise to the forests on the mountains, they are cooled down to water droplets by the tree branches and leaves. Numerous droplets come together and become streams, then flow downward. The Hani people draw stream water to their villages for daily use, and they channel water to irrigate their terraced fields. The forests, villages, terraced fields, and river valleys, one below the other, form an ecosystem that works day after day, year after year.
(China Pictorial February 20, 2003)
The Longji Terraced Rice Fields are located 23 kilometers (14 miles) from Longsheng city. They are the most famous rice terraces in China. Construction started in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and the fields cover an area of over 66 square kilometers (16,300 acres) and at its highest point is 1100 meters high (3600 feet).
Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Rice Fields received their name because the rice terraces resemble a dragon’s scales, while the summit of the mountain range looks like the backbone of the dragon. Visitors standing on the top of the mountain can see the dragon’s backbone twisting off into the distance. In a early morning when weather is fine, the sunrise on the summit of Longji Rice Terraces is magnificent.
The Longsheng Terraced Rice Fields are the most famous rice terraces in China. It is a paradise for photographers and people interested in China’s minority cultures. Longsheng (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Rice Fields received their name because the rice terraces resemble a dragon’s scales, while the summit of the mountain range looks like the backbone of the dragon.
Visitors standing on the top of the mountain can see the dragon’s backbone twisting off into the distance. During the Yuan Dynasty many minority groups were forced to flee to the mountains. Being primarily an agricultural society, they needed to find a way to continue agriculture on the steep sides of the mountains. They did this be ingeniously turning the mountains themselves into fields.
The entire mountains are covered with rice fields, from the rivers far below to the peaks, making Longsheng a very unique and picturesque scenic spot filled with ethnic minority groups such as the Yao and Zhuang. These people live in beautiful villages nestled in the hills.
The villages scattered across the mountain consist of wooden buildings built in a style that lets them hug the steep mountains. Each village is quite small and consists of only a few buildings. Many of these wooden homes are also used as small hotels, and visitors to Longsheng can stay in one and witness the local people’s hospitality.


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