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Hainan Tropical Rainforest and the Traditional Settlement of Li Ethnic Group

Date of Submission: 19/01/2022
Criteria: (iii)(v)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Chinese National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Hainan Province
Coordinates: N18 23-19 17 E108 47-109 43
Ref.: 6582

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The nominated property of Hainan Tropical Rainforest and the Traditional Settlement of Li Ethnic Group, located in the southern-central part of Hainan Island, which is a sanctuary for numerous globally endangered and endemic species of Hainan Island, as well as the major place where the Li ethnic group has lived for generations and established a harmonious relationship between humans and nature, adapted to the special local natural conditions.

From the perspective of nature, the nominated property of Hainan Tropical Rainforest and the Traditional Settlement of Li Ethnic Group has unique species groups and habitat landscapes.

Hainan Island, where the nominated property is located, is situated in the northeastern part of the Beibu Gulf, across the Qiongzhou Strait from Mainland China. It is the only large island in Southern China Rainforest Biogeographic Province (406 (4.6.1)) within the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot.

Hainan Island was formed during the collision of Indo-China block and Cathaysia block, and it was separated from Southern China block since Neoproterozoic (23 Ma-present). The landmass of Hainan Island has been connected to the mainland for a long time, and its flora and fauna are highly correlated with the coastal areas of southern China and northern Vietnam adjacent to the Beibu Gulf, which are among the regions with the richest biodiversity in the world. On the other hand, since Hainan Island has been separated from the mainland for more than ten million years, the biological communities and ecosystems have evolved independently into unique mountain ecosystem with a large number of endemic species, although there were intermittent connections during the glacial period. The ecosystem and species here have evolved in isolation from the mainland during the warm period of global geological history, showing remarkable diversity and uniqueness.

The nominated property of Hainan Tropical Rainforest and the Traditional Settlement of Li Ethnic Group is centered on Wuzhishan. The land descends gradually from the central mountain to the surrounding areas, forming a ring-shaped landform structure. The lowlands and mountains in the area belong to two separate ecological regions in the Ecoregion 2017. The lowlands belong to the 268. South China-Vietnam subtropical evergreen forests, and the mountains belong to the 232. Hainan Island monsoon rain forests. The former was once widely distributed in the lowlands of southern China and the northern plains of Vietnam, but currently only has extremely limited residual part in the lowlands of Hainan Island and the Sino-Vietnamese border, with the remains of natural secondary vegetation. The latter is only distributed in a very small scope of Wuzhishan area of Hainan Province and the eastern mountainous area of the Leizhou Peninsula.

The monsoon forest of Hainan Island is a highly specific type of ecological region with extremely limited global distribution. Correspondingly, the primeval forests of Hainan Tropical Rainforest and the natural secondary vegetation of lower mountains and surrounding lowlands are the only remaining habitats for a large number of endemic animals and plants in the world. The rugged terrain of the nominated property, with the local microclimate differences caused by altitude, topography and slope direction, further enriches the species and ecosystem diversity of Hainan Tropical Rainforest, making the unique characteristics of the following areas:

(1) Bawangling: Located in the west of Wuzhishan area, Bawangling is currently the only habitat for the world's critically endangered species of Hainan Gibbon (Nomascus hainanus, CR), and it preserves the top vegetation communities of Hainan Mountain rainforest.

(2) Wuzhishan: Located in the middle of Wuzhishan area, Wuzhishan still maintains a complete spectrum of typical vertical vegetation zone in Wuzhishan area of Hainan Island, and is also a representative habitat for the endemic birds of Hainan Island, represented by the Hainan Partridge (Arborophila ardens) and Hainan Peacock-Pheasant (Polyplectron katsumatae).

(3) Yinggeling: Located in the middle of Wuzhishan area, adjacent to Wuzhishan Reserve in the south, Yinggeling is the primeval forest vegetation coverage area with the largest contiguous area and the largest altitude span in Wuzhishan area, which is also a typical habitat for various endemic species. In addition, there are some typical Li villages here.

(4) Jianfengling: Located inthe southwest of Wuzhishan area, Jianfengling is the leeward slope of tropical cyclones in the western Pacific Ocean. The relatively dry climate brings different forest form compares to other parts of the area.

(5) Datian: Located in the west of Wuzhishan area, close to Bawangling, Datian is foothill and lowland close to mountains, where was once the last refuge for the wild population of Hainan eld’s deer (Cervus eldi hainanus, EN). With moderate human intervention, the only remaining tropical savanna landscape in this biogeographic province is preserved in Datian Reserve. The Hainan eld’s deer is a representative species in this landscape. Since the ancestors of Li ethnic group settled in the lowlands of Hainan Island, continuous slash-and-burn cultivation has maintained such habitat until modern times. In the adjacent coastal lowlands of the mainland, this type of habitat and Hainan eld’s deer have disappeared with the spread of intensive farming since several centuries ago. In Hainan Island, the savanna which only exists in Datian is also a typical habitat for endemic species such as Hainan eld’s deer (Cervus eldi hainanus, EN), Hainan muntjac (Muntiacus nigripes), and Hainan Hare (Lepus hainanus).

The nominated property is one of the Centres of Plant Diversity (CPD), which is also the site of the Important Bird Area (IBA) and the Alliance of Zero Extinction (AZE).

From the perspective of culture, the nominated property of Hainan Tropical Rainforest and the Traditional Settlement of Li Ethnic Group is the main living area of Li people and also the place where Li people have settled down for a long time and created a unique island tribal culture.

The nominated property preserved cave sites dating from the Late Palaeolithic to the Neolithic period, with human and animal bone fragments and stone tools that are the testimony of the early human life. The traditional settlement of Li ethnic group preserved in the nominated property can still show the morphological characteristics of early Li society. Their man-land interactions, customs, and physical remains of the villages reflect their traditional way of life illustrating how the local people adapt to the natural environment, which are a typical representatives of island tribes in tropical areas and, also have a certain global representation. The traditional villages of Li ethnic group in the nominated property are rich in historical and cultural values. Their physical cultural remains (such as village form and traditional architecture, etc.), and intangible culture (such as farming culture, traditional customs, dialect system, costume system and textile technology, etc.) fully reflect the ethnical cultural characteristics of Li people. The site selection, spatial layout, architectural style, and technology used in the traditional villages fully demonstrate Li people’s wisdom in revering nature and making good use of it, reflecting the values and social views of their ancestors, meticulously and extensively presenting the relationship between human and nature.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (iii): Cave sites reflect the way how the ancestors of Hainan Island responded to the natural environment as well as used it for survival, which also has important influnces in the formation and development of Li ethnic group settlement during the course of historical evolution. The physical and cultural remains of the built environment (villages, buildings and structures, etc.) in the Li settlements have witnessed the transition from primitive society to agricultural society during the development of civilization. Reflecting the early buildings built from local materials have reflcted harmoniously coexistence with the nature, the physical and cultural remains of the built environment can be used as strong evidence to demostrate a long history of Li society.

Criterion (v): For a long time, Li village as a whole can be seen as a residential paragidm of tropical islands and mountains, showing the perfect coadapation and coexistence between human settlements and natural environment. On the one hand, the morphological evolution of Li villages and the typological change of buildings and structures within them fully reflect the characteristics of Li people’s continuous adaptation to natural environment and integration of their life and production. On the other hand, it reflects the merging of inhabitation culture between the early stage and modern time. At the same time, the traditional land use of Li people has developed a diversified habitat with mountains, forests, grass and fields, providing a special home for some endemic species, and shaping a special living community in the traditional residential environment of Hainan Island. However, the rapid development of local society in general, and globalization in particular, has caused an increasingly vulnerable situation for today's Li villages.

Criterion (x): The nominated property of Hainan Tropical Rainforest and the Traditional Settlemenis of Li Ethnic Group is mainly located in the unique Hainan Island monsoon forest ecosystem with 3577 species of higher plants, 428 of which are endemic to Hainan Island. It is also the only habitat in the world for Hainan Gibbon (Nomascus hainanus, CR), Petaurista hainana, Hainan Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus hainanus), Hainan Peacock Pheasant (Polyplectron katsumatae, EN), Hainan Partridge (Arborophila ardens, VU), and other Hainan Mountain rainforest endemic species. Meanwhile, the nominated property of Hainan Tropical Rainforest and Li Culture lower mountains and the surrounding lowlands are the only remaining habitat among the world for endemic species (subspecies) of Hainan lowland monsoon rainforest such as Hainan eld’s deer (Cervus eldii hainanus, EN), Hainan Muntjac (Muntiacus nigripes, VU) and Hainan Hare (Lepus hainanus, VU). Since the last ice age, the ancestors of Li ethnic group replaced large mammals such as elephants and rhinoceroses and became the main force which shaping the vegetation landscape in lowlands and mountainous area of Hainan Island. The lowland savanna of Hainan Island was thus preserved and has become the last refuge of the above-mentioned lowland species in the Anthropocene. Therefore, the nominated property is an important geographical unit with an irreplaceable role in global biodiversity conservation.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The unique natural environment of Hainan Tropical Rainforest has provided an important natural foundation for the continuation of Li villages for thousands of years, not only in the continuity with the mainland Ling’nan culture, but also the uniqueness of its island evolution. Today, the extensive layout of Li villages in Wuzhishan area, the unique boat-shape house construction, the distinctive agricultural facilities and the highly identifiable religious and folk features have profoundly revealed the interactive relationship between human and nature in this area.

The traditional boat-shape houses, village landscape and the surrounding environment presenting harmonious coexistence in Hainan Tropical Rainforest has been recorded in the ancient legends, ballads and traditional brocade patterns from generation to generation by Li people. The landscape of boat-shape houses & Li villages, and life record within them in Hainan Island during the age of the Ming and Qing Dynasties as well as Republican of China have been respectively doucumented in the Qiongli Customs Map and the Ethnic History Picture Scrolls during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the local Li people’s traditional house-building technology has been passed down uninterruptedly. Up till now, the young and middle-aged Li people still have the construction skills of traditional houses.


The nominated property contains typical geomorphic units, vegetation types, and habitats of rare and endangered endemic species is complete in terms of elements, scope and values, including their relevance to local traditional cultural areas.

In the nominated property, Bawangling, Wuzhishan, Yinggeling, and Jianfengling located within Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park can fully represent the types of forest vegetation formed under different slope directions, altitudes and geomorphic conditions in Wuzhishan area. Datian Nature Reserve is a national nature reserve, which represents the special savanna landscape of the low mountain and piedmont of Wuzhishan formed under human disturbance since the Last Glaciation. The cave sites in the nominated property, such as Qian Tie Cave and Emperor Cave, can be witnesses of early human activities during the Stone Age. The existing Chubao Village, Hongshui Village, Baicha Village, and Echa Village in the nominated property are typical representatives of Li village preserving a relatively complete remains of landscape and builiding, fully reflecting the life and producttion of Li ethnic group.

The typical vegetation, rare and endangered endemic species, and traditional Li villages in the above-mentioned nominated property are strictly protected by the relevant Chinese laws and are in good conditions, with great integrity of the nominated property itself as well as its associated environment. However, at the same time, in order to demonstrate the outstanding universal value of the nominated property with better integrity, a systematic restoration plan of the traditional Li villages is highly recommended.

Comparison with other similar properties

From the perspective of biogeographical division, there are no island-type World Heritage properties in the Tropical Forest Biogeographic Province of Southern China, where the nominated property is located. There is currently only one World Natural Heritage Property in this area, namely Ha Long Bay World Natural Heritage property in Vietnam. However, Ha Long Bay, which outstanding value of the property is centred around the drowned limestone karst landforms, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site under criteria (vii) (Outstanding natural beauty) and (viii) (geomorphic or physiographic features), not under criteria (ix) (ecological processes) and (x) (biological diversity and threatened species habitats).

From the perspective of Global Biodiversity Hotspots, Indo-Burma Hotspots where the nominated property is located, covers less than 1% of the biodiversity World Heritage in terms of area. Similarly, the Global 200 key ecological area where Hainan Island located is also a key ecological area, but with extremely low coverage of biodiversity World Heritage. The nominated property is not only one of the 218 Endemic Bird Areas (EBA) in the world, but also one of the 234 Centre of Plant Diversity (CPD) in the world.The EBA and CPD where Hainan Island located is still a vacant area of World Heritage Site.

From the perspective of World Heritage Value (potential), there are 21 island types of World Heritage Properties inscribed under criteria (ix) or criteria (x), 38 Island-Type World Heritage Properties inscribed under criteria (ix) or criteria (x). From the perspective of biodiversity, the number of known terrestrial higher plants and endemic species in the nominated property is 3577, exceeding all other Island-Type World Heritage Sites. Among them, there are up to 428 endemic species, which also exceeds all Island-Type World Heritage Sites and major large islands in tropical Africa and Southeast Asia.

From the aspects of biogeographic division, the main World Heritage Value (potential) and the diversity of flora and fauna show that the biogeographic province where the nominated property is located is a vacant area of Biodiversity World Heritage, given a comparative analysis of 24 Island-Type World Heritage Sites and 41 Island-Type World Heritage Nominated Sites. The nominated property has more terrestrial higher plant species and more endemic terrestrial higher plant species than all existing Island-Type World Heritage Sites.

In the light of the urgency of preserving the global historical cultural landscape and the current physical status of traditional Li culture as well as its social environment, the physical and cultural remains of built environment in Li villages can reflect cultural continuity with the mainland Ling’nan and Southeast Asia, and the uniqueness of the island culture evolution, but under an irreversible change to become extremely fragile. The culture, tradition and knowledge of Li people are continuously being reflected in the construction of boat-shape houses and landscape shaping in their traditional villages. The traditional villages, buildings and landscape patterns illustrate how perfectly the life stye of Li people continued adapting to the natural environment, which are also a direct and distinct physical witness to the traditional social structure of Li ethnic group.