Longsheng, China: the Dragon’s Back rice terraces

Longsheng: The Dragon's Back rice terraces

Longsheng: The Dragon’s Back rice terraces

It is a long and arduous journey to reach the Longsheng rice terraces from Guilin. The first bus stops at the entrance to the scenic area and we bundle into smaller mini buses to continue our ascent. The narrow winding road runs up the valley, past wooden houses, craggy canyons and stony river beds. Then, from the drop off point at the top, we catch a cable car to the very summit. The efficient, gently swinging cab provides our tantalising first view out over the impossibly green rice terraces.

Known as the “Dragon’s Back” rice terraces, these crops contour the hills – a huge literal translation of the  lines on any map. Sinuous and twining around the slopes of the hills, creating edges where no natural lines should be, the terraces are surreally alien in this natural environment. It is as if the world has been slotted together with building blocks, Lego pieces shaping the world with clean, stepped lines.

Longsheng: The Dragon's Back rice terraces

Longsheng: The Dragon’s Back rice terraces

Yellow tipped blades rise up from the mud, waving in the breeze as they reach towards the sky. The greenness of the stems is heightened by the contrast as it transforms into yellow half way up. The steps in the landscape that seem so solid from above are mere illusion once among them. The ground they nestle in is solid its true, but the shoots that cover it, the blades that lineate the edges of the contours, are movable – swaying in the breeze, a hundred tiny individual points all converging as one.

The cloud lies low over the mountain. It hangs suspended, woven through the valleys and hills, stationery above the cultivated rice patterns below. This place is shrouded in white. These hills are the legacy of the human insistence to tame nature and make it “productive”, to make it work for us. In this instance, the merging of humanity and nature is beautiful. It is the best of both worlds. It is ordered yet changeable, permanent yet transient, movable yet seemingly solid. It is more than just an attractive view; it is a life force providing vital sustenance and employment to a huge minority community.

Longsheng: The Dragon's Back rice terraces

Longsheng: The Dragon’s Back rice terraces

It appears to be nature tamed, or at least in willing collaboration. The crops have been planted on steep hillsides and here man has triumphed over the challenging terrain, but it is the co-operation between humanity and nature that provides the beauty. The wind, the sleet, the cloud – all will continue on a whim uncontrolled by man. Likewise the sun that brightens the crops and the rain that feeds the young shoots. In the spring, the locals flood the terraces to feed these fresh seeds and give nature a helping hand. Collaboration can be beautiful and it is only through understanding this balance, through treating the earth with respect – not taking too much, ensuring to give back enough – that a sustainable eco system of productivity can be continued in the beautiful harmony we have witnessed here today.

Longsheng: The Dragon's Back rice terraces

Longsheng: The Dragon’s Back rice terraces

Words and photographs copyright of Bonnie Radcliffe.

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