Photographer's Note


Terraced Fields: untold story

Since the '50s, the Hani in the entire area of the Ailao Mountains have been ushered into a socialistic society through peaceful negotiation and land reform. The forested land in thus controlled by the state, but community forests and private forests were also established. The community forests are the original “dragon tree forests”, village forests and water-source forests, while the private forests are the small patches of forest near, or at the back, or in the front of Hani house.

After the People’s Commune movement in 1958, all forestland was brought under the administration of the communes. Individual household in each village took turn in looking after forest. Those who cut down the trees were severely punished according to the village regulations. These rules continued more or less as before. In the next readjustment of the rural system, the forests were divided into state-owned forests, community forests and private forests. However, soon after in 1966, the private forests were again brought under the control of the agricultural production cooperatives. A forest station at the commune level was set up and special persons were assigned to take care of the forests. This system last until 1982.

From 1958 to 1982, although there were many changes in the organization of the forests, the management methods were still primarily traditional ones, which had been passed down for hundreds of years. However, two political movements during this period caused great damage to the forests in this area. The first was the Great Leap Forward in 1958, when people all over the country, including those in the Ailao Mountains were encouraged to cut down trees to make iron and steel. Many forest were clear-cut, and were terribly degraded. The second was the Learn From Dazhai movement in 1972, when trees were cut down to make fields, and forests were once again greatly damaged.

During these two political movements, the traditional practices of the Hani for managing forests were regarded as superstitious and were thus eliminated. Sacred trees and sacred groves were also cut. As a result of these two movements, according to the statistics of Yuanyang County, forest cover declined from 56% in 1957 to 20.8% in 1982. The destruction of the forest led to great disorder in the ecological functions and service networks, which eventually led to frequent flooding.

The destruction of forest also made it difficult to secure drinking water for both human beings and livestock, and caused a shortage of water in the terraced fields. Landslides and mudslides also occurred in some places. In 9-1989, there was a landslide at the headquarters of Yuanyang County and more than 100 million Yuan was spent on relocation the people living there.

(Source: "Globalization and indigenous people in Asia" by Wang Qinghua, SAGE Publications 2005)


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