The rice terraces of Yuanyang (元阳), which have been under continuous cultivation for thirteen centuries, were officially granted World Heritage status on June 22. The mountainous paddy fields in southeast Yunnan became the fifth such area to be recognized in the province.
This year the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added nineteen sites around the world to its ever-growing World Heritage List. The committee tasked with assigning these designations held its 37th annual meeting last week in Phnom Penh and considered 31 places deemed culturally or naturally significant.
The rice terraces in Yuanyang were originally constructed and are predominantly maintained by the Hani minority. They were recognized largely because they are exemplary of a distinctive indigenous culture and its traditional technology. According to the 21-member World Heritage Committee, the area represents "a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared".
The hillside paddies, also referred to as the Hani Terraces, span 13,190 hectares and are home to 80,000 people from the seven ethnic groups. For centuries the inhabitants of this area have farmed the 2,000-meter mountainsides, which are sometimes perched on 45-degree slopes. Over the course of their history, the fields have produced an estimated one thousand different strains of rice.
Once a site has been recognized by UNESCO a country can apply for preservation funds. These may be necessary in the case of the Hani Terraces as they are plagued by an invasive species of crayfish that threaten the structural integrity of the earthen dikes comprising the paddies.
Yunnan has two other sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List — which means they can be put up for consideration by the UNESCO committee. These include the Dali Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake Scenic Spot and the Jingmai Ancient Tea Gardens in Pu'er.
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