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'Stairway to the sky' found in central Hunan
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-12-10 06:59

Zijuanjie, a mountainous area in central Hunan Province, is drawing increasing attention with its 2,000-year-old terraced paddy fields, which are more like mesmerizing, abstract pieces of art, or the "stairway to the sky," than just rice fields.

A research team formed by experts in Hunan recently investigated the area and came up with surprising findings.

Nestled in the depth of Xuefeng Mountains in Xinhua County of Hunan, the terraced fields are seen rising high from mountain to mountain, covering an area of 3,935 hectares.

The terraced fields rise like giant stairs from an altitude of 500 to 1,200 metres along the steep contours of the mountains.

Experts say that Zijuanjie terraced fields are an environmental wonder parallel to the Hani rice terraces in Yuanyang of Yunnan Province and those in Longsheng of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The history of the local rice terraces dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), and during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the agriculture system reached its peak.

Local people, mostly Miao, Yao, Dong and Han, have farmed the terraces to grow rice for their families for over 2,000 years.

With the slopes attaining grades of 50 degrees, it is a wonder how motorized equipment used to cut and level the terraces was moved up the mountainside.

But a study shows that the rice terraces were painstakingly carved from the harsh terrain by local people using primitive tools and bare hands in ancient times.

Experts say the rice fields are a reflection of the peoples' overall mastery of watershed ecology and terrace engineering, expressing the harmony between humankind and the environment in creating a landscape of beauty.

In the spring, while the fields are full of water, the rice terrace looks like a million silver shining mirrors, while in the summer it is all green like an ocean of grass.

Now, the local government is trying to promote Zijuanjie as a tourist attraction and is working on using the site for a national resort.

Visitors can get to Zijuanjie in two ways: fly to Changsha, capital of Hunan Province, and then take a bus to Xinhua County (about three hours ride); or get to Loudi, Xinhua or Lengshuijiang of Hunan Province by train. The terraced fields are located west of Shuiche Town of Xinhua County.

(China Daily 12/10/2005 page9)

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