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Preserving Green Heritage

Updated:  2018-11-30 17:19:55

  (China TEFL Net)

Preserving Green Heritage

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eople of the Hani ethnic group in Yunnan province perform chorus during farming of a rice terrace, which is on the list of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems. [PHOTO BY WANG KAIHAO/ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY]

An ongoing exhibition at the China Agricultural Museum in Beijing showcases farming techniques used through the ages, Wang Kaihao reports.

China has a long history of agriculture, but what is the legacy left by generations of Chinese farmers over the millennia?

When traveling across the countryside by train or bus, you have probably seen much of that heritage, though this may have hardly registered with you.

Now, an exhibition at the China Agricultural Museum in Beijing showcases these techniques and technologies, tangible or intangible, and explores their significance to modern society.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has so far chosen 91 agricultural practices from 28 provincial-level administrative regions for inclusion on the national heritage list, which was created in 2013. They are separated into nine categories, including ecosystem architecture, vegetable plantation, irrigation systems and animal feeding.

All the entries are showcased at the Exhibition of China's Important Agricultural Heritage Systems through pictures, texts, traditional farming tools, and of course fresh produce.

It is unprecedented to have such a comprehensive display covering the country's traditional agriculture, according to Liu Beihua, the director of the China Agricultural Museum.

"The exhibition shows our predecessors' understanding of natural rules, philosophies, and even sustainable development," says Liu.

"Today, people advocate an eco-friendly economy," she says, "so, it becomes important to showcase the wisdom hidden in these techniques, and remind people to better protect our agrarian culture."

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A woman from Zhejiang province displays an old silk reeling technique at an exhibition at the China Agricultural Museum in Beijing. [PHOTO BY WANG KAIHAO/ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY]

Many of the examples of China's agricultural heritage, which are showcased, are well-known.

For instance, the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, which have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2013.

This agricultural system, which dates back 1,300 years in areas inhabited by the Hani ethnic group in Yunnan province, shows how local people overcame tough natural conditions to make full use of their scarce resources.

People living by the West Lake in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province and also a UNESCO World Heritage site, have grown world famous Longjing Tea for 1,000 years, and have a system of planting that produces one of the best Chinese tea varieties.

Speaking about the benefits of preserving the agricultural heritage, Liu says: "As China makes efforts to revitalize its rural areas, the old traditions can play a pivotal role."

Another display shows how Qingtian county in Zhejiang province has a system which enables fish to be raised in watered rice fields.

In Aohan banner (a county-level region) in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, farmers grow millet the same way that they have been doing for thousands of years.

Archaeological discoveries show that the local people began to grow millet, almost 8,000 years ago, the earliest known cultivation of the cereal crop in the world.

One of the discoveries shows how Turpan, in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, had an underground channel called karez dating back 2,000 years that was used for irrigation in the arid region.

"All these agricultural systems are examples of how the Chinese sought harmony between heaven and earth, as advocated in (their) philosophy," says Dai Jun, a supervisor from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

"Many popular modern ideas, like organic food, can also trace their roots to such ancient practices," he says.

One of the displays showcases rice fields in the west of Beijing, that have been in existence for over 300 years.

In imperial times, the fields were a key source of food for the royal families in the capital city. Now, at just 1.3 square kilometers, the field is still cultivated.

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People of the Miao ethnic group perform traditional dancing at the opening ceremony of the exhibition. [PHOTO BY WANG KAIHAO/ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY]

"The area of the field is greatly reduced," says Dai. "Fortunately, some parts survive today to show how people grew rice in Beijing in the old days."

Dai says traditional farming areas form the foundation of the nation's culture.

For instance, in the Honghe Hani Terrace area, a unique polyphonic chorus genre called Hani-haba (Hani ancient songs) and other intangible cultural heritage is closely connected with people's everyday labor in the field.

"Unlike cultural relics, agricultural heritage systems are still alive," Dai explains.

"So, if it disappears, folk art forms, traditional rituals and festivals and old craftsmanship, which are based on farming, will no longer exist.

"This heritage not only belongs to the past, but is essential for the future.

"Now, in a time being dominated by modern agriculture, in which machines and chemicals are widely used, we have to leave other alternatives for future generations."

He also says that the revival of such traditions is a way to alleviate poverty.

"Frankly speaking, some traditional methods are alive in regions that are relatively less developed and face poverty," says Dai.

"So, we can use this heritage to improve local livelihoods."

However, protection of heritage does not mean keeping everything as it is.

"So, while large-scale mechanization is not advisable, management can be improved, and better breeds of farm animals can be introduced to boost economic value."

Meanwhile, an expanded list of China's key agricultural heritage systems will be released next year, says Dai, and the clamor for national heritage site status will benefit farmers and boost food safety.

Separately, China's efforts to protect agricultural heritage has been recognized overseas.

According to Tang Shengyao, the deputy head of the international cooperation department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, China now owns 15 Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems, including the Honghe Hani Rice Terrace; the Qingtian's Rice and Fish Culture, and the Aohan Dryland Farming System-placing it at the top of the table for such systems.

The GIAHS program was initiated by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in 2002, and so far there are 52 entries from 21 countries.

Speaking about how China sees the process, Tang says: "China has released a national rule to regulate the heritage systems, and has established a supervision center overseeing their protection. We are the first country to do so, and we've gained great social, economic and cultural benefits."

So far, delegates from nearly 70 countries have come to China to learn GIAHS-related work, Tang adds. Work has also been done to promote the exchange of experiences between Chinese and foreign counterparts on similar projects.

For example, a cooperation agreement has been reached between Fuzhou Jasmine and Tea Culture System in Fujian province and wine regions in Burgundy, France. The same is true for the Xinghua Duotian water-land agro-system in Jiangsu province and the Chinampa system in Mexico-floating artificial islands that have been used for agricultural production since Aztec times.

 

 

 

Source: China Daily


Source: China Daily

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