Announcing Yunnan's latest UNESCO site: The ancient tea forests of Jingmai Mountain

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Nestled in the verdant expanse of Yunnan Province, an area already renowned for its UNESCO-listed wonders, the Cultural Landscape of Old Tea Forests of Jingmai Mountain in Pu'er adds another layer to the region's rich tapestry. Now inscribed as China's 57th UNESCO World Heritage site, this destination enriches Yunnan's allure as a cornerstone of both natural and cultural heritage.

An Enigmatic Landscape

The inclusion of Jingmai Mountain's ancient tea forests is significant not only for China but also for the global tea culture. It marks the first World Heritage site dedicated to tea, a milestone that acknowledges the cultural importance of a beverage that has historically been overshadowed by the likes of wine and coffee. Comprising five ancient tea forests and enveloping a total area of 18,000 mu (approximately 1,200 hectares), the site is a living testament to the ancient traditions that have cultivated it.

Residing in this revered landscape are nine traditional villages primarily inhabited by the Bulang and Dai ethnic groups. These communities have been the stewards of the tea forests for generations, maintaining an exceptional balance between heritage preservation and sustainable development. Theirs is a lifestyle intrinsically linked to the land, a symphony of human interaction with nature that has allowed both to flourish.

A harmonious coexistence of man and nature

Dai People’s Village in Nuogang. Photo: Xie Jun
Dai People’s Village in Nuogang. Photo: Xie Jun

What sets Jingmai Mountain apart is the unique cultivation technique developed by its local inhabitants. The mountain is more than a repository of ancient tea trees – it is a self-sufficient eco-zone home to over 900 plant species and 340 types of animal species. The practice of "understory cultivation" creates ideal light conditions for tea trees while maintaining a robust ecosystem. Such techniques have been passed down through generations, guided by religious beliefs and cultural traditions.

In addition to the tea, the land is rich in biodiversity. Flora and fauna coexist in an intricate web of interdependence, nurtured by the area's unique climate and geographical features. For instance, the local "phoenix tree" serves as a dwelling for "rock bees," exemplifying the symbiotic relationships that have evolved here.

The Challenges of Modernity

As news of the UNESCO inscription spreads, Jingmai Mountain faces the double-edged sword of increased tourism. While the added attention brings with it economic benefits, it also poses a risk to the fragile ecosystem and the cultural integrity of the local communities. Conscious of this, the local authorities are implementing measures to regulate the inflow of tourists, particularly during peak seasons.

Moreover, as Yunnan is already a high-profile tourist destination, known for its other UNESCO sites like the Stone Forest, the Old Town of Lijiang and the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, the addition of Jingmai Mountain can be seen as a further enhancement to the province's appeal, albeit one that must be managed with care.

Sunrise at the Jingmai Mountain. Photo: Chen Yaohua
Sunrise at the Jingmai Mountain. Photo: Chen Yaohua

Future Prospects

With the successful inscription, local stakeholders are keen to strike a balance between ecological preservation and socio-economic development. Authorities have expressed the importance of community involvement, particularly among the younger generation, in the sustainable development of the region. Initiatives such as tea cooperatives and cultural projects aim to foster local industry while safeguarding ancestral traditions.

Conclusion

The inscription of the Cultural Landscape of Old Tea Forests of Jingmai Mountain reaffirms Yunnan's status as a cradle of diverse natural and cultural heritage. It also adds a new dimension to the province's tourism offerings, provided that the natural beauty and cultural richness are preserved for future generations. As China aims for a harmonious coexistence between man and nature, the example set by Jingmai Mountain serves as an inspiration, not just for Yunnan or China, but for the world at large.

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