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Notes on the Geography of China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages

The 80-plus villages within the zone preserved by UNESCO have, with one exception, been radically transformed in recent years, chiefly by the substitution of integrally-colored concrete blocks for traditional stone-and-mud buildings. With one hand the government decrees that a traditional landscape shall be preserved; with the other, it helps or at least raises no objections as villagers say goodbye to all that.

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China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 1

Here's the same village we were in when we walked down the irrigation channel. It's all concrete, or at least concrete-faced. The nod to tradition is the color, blended into the concrete to resemble mud.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 2

In the center of the village. Call it a construction zone.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 3

Concrete blocks eventually face the concrete and brick buildings. What's that in her hand? No, no, she's perfectly mellow. Just a friendly conversation.

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Progress on the way. In the background is something that approximates the traditional Hani house: thatch over mud-brick.

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Here's another village, not one that does much to improve the beauty of the terraces. The roofs may well get a cosmetic layer of thatch.

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One traditional village is said to survive. It's Azheke. To get to it we go along this main road, which links many villages all at about the same elevation. Then we drop down a rough path. Notice the juxtaposition of the traditional stone-and-thatch "mushroom" houses with newer styles.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 7

Pre-concrete: stone houses, pricier than mud-brick.

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Severe but elegant, except for the lack of any kind of handrail.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 9

Improvements force their way into older buildings.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 10

Watch your step!

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A stone trough. What for?

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 12

Lots of things, including sharpening a sickle.

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Or washing greens, probably headed for the local market.

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As simple as thatch and mud can be, but with one exception. See it?

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At the base, and especially at the corners, stone is used to resist erosion. Locally, nobody builds this way anymore.

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Farther into the village. Notice the long rods? They're for drying noodles.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 17

The houses are minimally heated, and the fuel is wood.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 18

Sometimes the fuel is dung.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 19

Heat comes also from the animals penned downstairs.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 20

You didn't believe me?

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 21

Bracing a mud wall that threatens to collapse.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 22

Despite the strictures, new houses do get built like this one, built about 2000 of stone and brick.

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Inside, it's smoky. The black column on the right is concrete, not some exotic timber. The television brings the mythical Chinese past and the mythical Chinese present.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 24

Baking cakes of ground rice.

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Besides filling the house with smoke, the little fire also smokes bits of last year's pig.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 26

Mom has four kids. Not exactly the demographics that outsiders expect in China.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 27

Outside the house, there's a waterwheel and, inside the building, a rice mill.

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Here it is, with a wheel that runs in a stone trough. It's broken at the moment and missing critical parts.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 29

Next door, somebody's breaking the rules.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 30

Farther downhill, the village ends and gives way to misty fields.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 31

Look around, however, and there are people at work, here cutting greens.

China: Hani Terraces 2: Villages picture 32

A tiny patch.

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Catching a breath on the way uphill to the market.

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Somebody thought to build rest spots on the path.


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