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The Photo Story: Fields of old

Laohuzui (‘Tiger Mouth’), part of the Yuanyang rice terraces, is one of the highest and best places to view the terraces – which rise 2,000m high
Photographer: Alessandra Meniconzi

The Honghe Hani Rice Terraces extend for nearly a 1,000sqkm over the slopes of the Ailao Mountains in Yunnan, a province of southwestern China. They’ve been cultivated for 1,300 years by the Hani, one of 26 officially recognised minority groups who live in Yunnan (nearly half the ­

Once based on the plains of northwest China, the Hani were pushed south into the mountains and had to find a way to survive; their system of terraces created more arable land and reduced soil erosion, allowing rice to grow. Today, they farm as they have for centuries, passing skills and knowledge down from generation to generation. It’s a hard life – with the help of water buffalo, they work the fields by hand in summer and, in winter, they cover them with water for protection and to make new terraces.

For me, the area is a magical place and the connection between the people and nature is amazing. The Hani are animistic and believe the spirits of the forefathers, the sky, wind and water are all around, bringing protection and prosperity. Photographs can’t convey how vast the landscape is; I was shocked when I first saw it. If you are lucky and the fields are full of water and there is no mist, you can see sunrise and sunset reflected in them.

This is a place to visit at least once in your life – for nature-lovers, it is akin to seeing the Great Wall of China.


Farmers bringing home rice during the harvest, which is in September or October. It is common to see cows grazing on the side of the road
Photographer: Alessandra Meniconzi
This lady was selling potatoes, vegetables and eggs to visitors. China’s minority peoples all have their own costume, with unique colours and embroidery. The child’s hat has silver animals to protect him from bad spirits
Photographer: Alessandra Meniconzi
Dongchuan Red Land, about 250km from Yuanyang’s terraces, barley, wheat and potatoes are grown, and paddies turn red or yellow in autumn
Photographer: Alessandra Meniconzi