Longji's Terraced Rice Fields

Trip Start Jun 10, 2011
Trip End Jun 10, 2011

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Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Thursday, June 23, 2011

On June 10th, a new section of the Longji Terraced Rice Fields was open and I was invited to witness the opening ceremonies. The section has existed for centuries, but has had no road to it, so it could not really get visitors. Now a brand new road has been built allowing anyone to visit it. It was raining pretty hard when we got there and the clouds were very low, but instead of taking away from the visit, it actually added to its beauty and I did not mind at all. The rain filled the rice fields and the low-lying clouds acted were reflected in them like mirrors. The rain also made everything fresh and clean.

The terraced rice fields were built over 1,000 years ago by the Zhuang, Dong, and Yao Ethnic Minority Groups. At that time they were being persecuted by the Han Chinese, so they fled up into the mountains. Being agrarian societies, they knew no other way of living than by farming, so they turned the entire mountain range into their farm fields. The terraces were built using earth hauled up the mountains. They are masterpieces of engineering and a testament to the resourcefulness of the ancient Chinese. The fields were plowed by hand by husband and wife teams. The wife would work in front pulling the plow, while the husband would push from behind. A pole with two handles was held between them. The front handle rested on the woman's back while the back handle was on the man’s chest and he helped push. As they became more prosperous, oxen were used, and finally now, small hand controlled tractors are used. On some of the smaller fields, people-power is still used. When I was there, I could see people, and oxen plowing the fields. They were a beautiful sight and one which is becoming rarer in this modern age.

Located on this section was a single large village. Because it was built on a mountainside, the buildings were built on different levels, which was very picturesque. There was a labyrinth of stone paved paths which lead to the different levels and between houses. It was really fun to explore. The village was built over a stream that was fed from a spring on the top of the mountain. The water flowed through the villages and in some instances, under houses. The village used the water for cleaning, cooking, and for powering machines. I saw a mill which was grinding rice flour. It was powered by a water wheel which was connected to wooden gears. The creaking of the gears was quite pleasant. The wheel was a large round stone on an axle which rotated in a groove in the floor where rice was put. There was also a pounder for pounding rice into paste. It was a large lever with a pounding head on one end and a container on the back. The water would fill the container weighing it down, which would cause the head to rise. When the head rose to the proper height, the water poured out of the container and the head would then fall down into a stone bowl in the ground which contained rice. Traditionally, this was done by foot power, but here they used the water. There was another interesting water feature in the village and that was place built specifically to clean vegetables. It was a little shed that had a wooden trough in it to clean the vegetables. Water came in a stream from a dragon’s mouth into the trough.

The houses are built entirely of wood with grey tile roofs. There are no metal fasteners used in their construction. They are held together by ingenious design. Gravity, and tongue and groove construction keep them together for generations. The village’s buildings are fixed as they wear, so each one has areas that are ancient and others which are new, which sort of make a patchwork feel to them. The lower floor is where animals and farming tools are kept. The second floor is the main living and food storage areas are. The third floor is for the bedrooms. The second floor has a large main room with smaller storage rooms off of it. The large room is where the cooking, eating, and family activities occur. There is a hearth on one side. The floors are wooden, except for the hearth. The hearth is in the room and not against the wall and its base is a large slab of stone with an indentation in it. The fire is built on the stone and cooking vessels are placed on tripods above the fire. Above the hearth hangs a large basket which catches smoke and sparks that may come up from the fire to keep the roof from catching fire.

The Minority Groups which inhabited the area are very unique. Normally, China’s Ethnic Minority Groups keep to themselves, but since the three groups were forced up into the mountain in close proximity to each other, their constant contact meant that their cultures blended somewhat. They have separate features, but some similar ones as well. All the women in the village wear the traditional clothing which adds a beautiful splash of color to the village. They live as they always have and it is a wonderful experience to witness their culture first-hand.

The rice fields are works of art. Each one has sides built up of earth which has to be constantly maintained because the water in each paddy wears them down. The rice paddies are kept filled via natural springs at the top of the mountain. Each paddy feeds water to the one below it due to notches cut in the tops of the earthen walls. The water drops from terrace to terrace, keeping them all filled. When they wish to drain them, the water is diverted from the top fields via bamboo pipes and the water is allowed to empty from the terraces. Water is transferred distances via pieces of bamboo which are split in half and used as a trough to move the water.

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