Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

The Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China covers 16,603-hectares in Southern Yunnan. It is marked by spectacular terraces that cascade down the slopes of the towering Ailao Mountains to the banks of the Hong River. Over the past 1,300 years, the Hani people have developed a complex system of channels to bring water from the forested mountaintops to the terraces. They have also created an integrated farming system that involves buffalos, cattle, ducks, fish and eel and supports the production of red rice, the area’s primary crop. The inhabitants worship the sun, moon, mountains, rivers, forests and other natural phenomena including fire. They live in 82 villages situated between the mountaintop forests and the terraces. The villages feature traditional thatched “mushroom” houses. The resilient land management system of the rice terraces demonstrates extraordinary harmony between people and their environment, both visually and ecologically, based on exceptional and long-standing social and religious structures.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Paysage culturel des rizières en terrasse des Hani de Honghe

Ce site de 16 603 hectares est situé dans le sud du Yunnan. Il abrite des terrasses spectaculaires qui s’étagent sur les pentes escarpées du mont Ailao et descendent jusqu’à la rive sud de la Rivière rouge. Depuis 1 300 ans, le peuple Hani a développé un système complexe de canaux qui amènent l’eau des sommets boisés jusqu’aux terrasses. Il a aussi mis en place un système d’agriculture intégrée qui associe l’élevage (buffles, bovins, canards, poissons et anguilles) et la production du produit de base : le riz rouge. Les habitants vénèrent le soleil, la lune, les montagnes, les rivières, les forêts et d’autres phénomènes naturels comme le feu. Ils occupent 82 villages, installés entre les forêts des sommets et les terrasses, où l’on trouve des maisons traditionnelles dites « champignons ». Ce système de gestion de la terre particulièrement durable témoigne d’une extraordinaire harmonie entre les hommes et leur environnement, tant du point de vue visuel qu’écologique. Il repose sur des structures sociales et religieuses très anciennes.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Paisaje cultural de los arrozales en terrazas de los hani de Honghe

source: UNESCO/CPE
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0


source: NFUAJ

Cultuurlandschap van de Honghe Hani rijstterrassen

Het cultuurlandschap van de Honghe Hani rijstterrassen beslaat 16.603 hectare in het zuiden van de Chinese provincie Yunnan. Het wordt gekenmerkt door spectaculaire terrassen die trapsgewijs naar beneden lopen vanaf de hellingen van de torenhoge Ailao bergen aan de oevers van de rivier de Hong. In de afgelopen 1300 jaar ontwikkelde het Hani volk een complex kanalensysteem om water uit de beboste bergtoppen naar de terrassen te brengen. Daarnaast creëerden ze een landbouwsysteem – met buffels, koeien, eenden en vis – als ondersteuning voor de productie van rode rijst, het primaire gewas in dit gebied. De Hani wonen in 82 dorpen – met traditionele rieten ‘paddenstoel’-huizen – tussen de bergtopbossen en terrassen.


Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

On the south banks of the Hong River in the mountainous terrain of southern Yunnan, the Honghe Hani Rice terraces cascade down the towering slopes of the Ailao mountains. Carved out of dense forest over the past 1,300 years by Hani people who migrated here from further to the north-west, the irrigated terraces support paddy fields overlooking narrow valleys. In some places there are as many as 3,000 terraces between the lower edges of the forest and the valley floor.

Responding to the difficulties and opportunities of their environment of high mountains, narrow valleys criss-crossed by ravines, extremely high rainfall (around 1400mm) and sub-tropical valley climate, the Hani people have created out of dense forest an extraordinarily complex system of irrigated rice terraces that flows around the contours of the mountains.

The property extends across an area of some 1,000 square kilometres. Three areas of terraces, Bada, Duoyishu and Laohuzui, within three river basins, Malizhai, Dawazhe and Amengkong-Geta, reflect differing underlying geological characteristics. The gradient of the terraces in Bada is gentle, in Douyishu steeper, and in Laohuzui very steep.

The landscape reflects an integrated four-fold system of forests, water supply, terraces and houses. The mountain top forests are the lifeblood of the terraces in capturing and sustaining the water needed for the irrigation. There are four types of forests, the ancient ‘water recharge’ forest, sacred forest, consolidation forests, and village forests for the provision of timber for building, food and firewood. The sacred forests still have strong connotations. Above the village are places for the Village God “Angma” (the soul of the village) and for the Land Protection God “Misong”, where villagers pray for peace, health and prosperity.

Clefts in the rocks channel the rain, and sandstone beneath the granite mountains traps the water and then later releases it as springs. A complex system of channels has been developed to spread this water around the terraces in and between different valleys. Four trunk canals and 392 branch ditches which in length total 445.83km are maintained communally.

Eighty-two relatively small villages with between 50 and 100 households are constructed above the terraces just below the mountain top forests. The traditional vernacular buildings have walls built of rammed earth, of adobe bricks or of earth and stone under a tall, hipped, roof thatched with straw that gives the houses a distinctive ‘mushroom’ shape. At least half the houses in the villages are mainly or partly of traditional materials.

Each household farms one or two ‘plots’ of the rice terraces. Red rice is produced on the basis of a complex and integrated farming and breeding system involving buffalos, cattle, ducks, fish and eels. This system is under pinned by long-standing traditional social and religious structures, based on symbiotic relationships between plants and animals that reinforce communal obligations and the sacredness of nature and reflect a duality of approach between the individual and the community, and between people and gods, one reinforcing the other. 

The Honghe Hani rice terraces are an exceptional reflection of a resilient land management system that optimises social and environmental resources, demonstrates an extraordinary harmony between people and their environment in spiritual, ecological and visual terms, and is based on a spiritual respect for nature and respect for both the individual and the community, through a system of dual interdependence known as the ‘Man-God Unity social system’.

Criterion (iii): The Honghe-Hani terraces are an outstanding reflection of elaborate and finely tuned agricultural, forestry and water distribution systems that are reinforced by long-standing and distinctive socio-economic-religious systems.

Red rice, the main crop of the terraces is farmed on the basis of a complex, integrated farming and breeding system within which ducks fertilise the young rice plants, while chickens and pigs contribute fertiliser to more mature plants, water buffalo slough the fields for the next year’s planting and snails growing in the water of the terraces consume various pests. The rice growing process is sustained by elaborate socio-economic-religious systems that strengthen peoples’ relationship with the environment, through obligations to both their own lands and to the wider community, and affirm the sacredness of nature. This system of dual interdependence known as the ‘Man-God Unity social system’ and its physical manifestation in the shape of the terraces together form an exceptional still living cultural tradition.

Criterion (v): The Honghe Hani Rice terraced landscape reflects in an exceptional way a specific interaction with the environment mediated by integrated farming and water management systems, and underpinned by socio-economic-religious systems that express the dual relationship between people and gods and between individuals and community, a system that has persisted for at least a millennium, as can be shown by extensive archival sources.


The overall boundary encompasses a large area within which the overall terraced system can be appreciated and all its attributes, forests, water system, villages and terraces are present to a sufficient degree. None of the key physical attributes are under threat and the traditional farming system is currently robust and well protected. The buffer zone protects the water-sheds and the visual setting and contains enough space to allow for coordinated social and economic development.

The terraces are said to have high resilience against climate change and drought – as has been demonstrated during the major drought of 2005. They are however vulnerable to landslides as on average the terraces are constructed on 25% slopes.

There is an overall vulnerability of the integrated farming and forestry system in relation to how far they are capable of providing an adequate living for farmers that will allow them to remain on the land. The overall farming system is also vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of red rice, but there are strategies in place to increase the price of organic agricultural products.

Currently there are no adverse impacts from tourism as this is only just beginning and some of the villages are currently off the tourist trails. But tourist number are increasing rapidly and it is acknowledged  that the provision of tourism facilities and overall tourism management are challenges for the property in order that the villages are not over-whelmed by  the more damaging impacts of tourism.


The terraced landscape has maintained its authenticity in relation to the traditional form of the landscape elements, continuity of landscape function, practices and traditional knowledge, and continuity of rituals, beliefs and customs.

An area where authenticity is or could be vulnerable is in the traditional materials for traditional houses, as these are said to be difficult to obtain. New materials in houses – such as concrete bricks that replace adobe or tiles that replace thatched roofs to– are beginning to have a marked impact on the overall image of villages in the landscape as the colour as well as the forms of the buildings are subject to change. There is a potential conflict between sustaining traditional houses and continuing to support traditional building materials and techniques and meeting modern aspirations for domestic spaces. In recent decades, extraneous architectural styles have entered into the villages, causing some negative effects.

Overall traditional farming practices are also vulnerable to increasing expectations amongst farmers which could draw them away from the valleys, and to the potential impact of tourism which currently does not have an overall defined strategy to ensure its sustainable development. 

Management and protection requirements

The property is protected by law as a State Priority Protected Site designated by the State Council of China. The property was also designated in 2008 as a protected historic site by Yuanyang County People’s government.

Along with all inscribed properties in China the property is protected within the Measures for Conservation and Management of World Cultural Heritage Sites, issued by the Ministry of Culture, and the supreme legislation issued by the national authority of China. This legal instrument, along with conservation and management plans, special local laws and regulations, and village rules, are combined to constitute a complete system for identification, conservation, management and monitoring of World Heritage sites. This means that these sites need to be managed in line with requirements of the Ministry of Culture.

The local government has issued the Measures for Protection and Management of the Villages and Residences of the Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces and Guidelines for Conservation, Renovation and Environmental Treatment of Traditional Hani Residences in Honghe. These two legal documents set out technical standards to be followed within all the villages to control development and construction activities. They cover the rice terraces, forests, irrigation systems, traditional villages and residences, and the traditional culture in the region. These measures are ways of delivering the obligations of the national protection for World Heritage. New construction projects within the property will be strictly examined and controlled, by the provincial authority. The Guidelines were developed in association with School of Architecture, Tsinghua University. They stress the need to acknowledge that buildings in different villages and areas have their own characteristics that need to be respected. It is anticipated that buildings that are inconsistent with traditional style but not to the extent seriously threatening the overall landscape will be gradually improved in accordance with these guidelines.

Each of the villages is under the administration of village committees. The Tusi Native Chieftain System is still an important part of the terrace culture in Ailao Mountain. Two Tusi governments, namely, Mengnong Government and Zongwazhai Government in Yuanyang County, are involved in the planned area. As the basic unit of Hani People society, each village has developed a series of customary laws for managing natural resources and solving the inner discords of villagers and exterior grievances against other villages.

A Management Plan has been written for the property. After legal approval, it will be accepted as a legal and technical document for the protection, conservation and management of the property and included in Honghe Hani & Yi Autonomous Prefecture’s Urban System Plan, Master Plan for Towns and related plans of local social and economic development. The plan runs from 2011 to 2030, and is divided into short term, from 2011 to 2012, medium term from 2013 to 2020, and long term from 2021 to 2030, aims. The Hani Rice Terraces Cultural Heritage Protection and Development Management Committee is responsible for implementing the Plan. This includes members from many departments of the Honghe Prefecture.  The Hani Terraces Administration of Honghe Prefecture set up in 2007 with 12 staff members services the Committee, oversees the day-to-day administration carried out at County level and liaises with local stakeholders.

Local authorities are formulating specific plans for tourism management and development of the region and these plans are expected to be completed by the end of 2013. A major information centre is being developed at Xinjie Town that will focus on the terraces and their social and religious structures and this will be completed by 2020.

So as to ensure there is a clear understanding of what is being sustained and how tourists can support the overall management process, it would be desirable if the Management Plan could be supported by a detailed Sustainable Eco-Tourism Strategy for the property and its buffer zone and by an Interpretation Strategy that allows understanding of the complex farming and water management systems and the distinctive social-economic and religious systems of the Hani communities.

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