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A historic entry

ANN/CHINA DAILY – The cultural landscape of old tea forests of Jingmai Mountain in Pu’er became China’s 57th entry for World Heritage Site status at the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

The first World Heritage Site with the theme of tea in Lancang Lahu in Pu’er, Yunnan is mainly inhabited by Blang and Dai ethnic groups.

The five large-scale, well-preserved old tea forests – are 1,250 to 1,500 metres above the sea level and contain nine traditional villages scattered around the old forests as well as three protective separation forests in between.

The landscape was jointly created by ancestors of Blang people who immigrated to Jingmai Mountain in the 10th Century AD and discovered and domesticated wild tea trees, as well as by the ancestors of Dai people.

On the basis of longstanding practices, the locals developed an under-story growing technique. That is to create ideal light conditions for the growing of tea trees through limited under-story cultivation while preventing insect hazards through the well-preserved forest ecosystem, so as to produce quality organic tea leaves without the application of pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

Villages are surrounded by old tea forests and a cloud sea on Jingmai Mountain. PHOTO: ANN/CHINA DAILY
Nuogan, a village mainly inhabited by the Dai ethnic group, in the heart of the old tea forests. PHOTO: ANN/CHINA DAILY
ABOVE & BELOW: A Blang woman processes tea; and an aerial view of an old tea forest. PHOTO: ANN/CHINA DAILY

As UNESCO World Heritage Committee noted on the 45th Session: “(It) represents an exceptional testimony of the under-story tea cultivation traditions that enabled the development of a complementary spatial distribution of different land uses providing ecosystems and micro-climates that support both the cultivation of old tea forests and the well-being of communities residing in this organically evolved cultural landscape.”

The committee noted that the cultural landscape is also an outstanding example of a sustainable land-use system based on a combination of horizontal and vertical land-use patterns.

It further stated, “This land-use system permits the complementary use of natural resources in the mountainous environment of Jingmai Mountain and represents an exceptional example of a human interaction by Blang and Dai peoples in a challenging environment.”

Director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration Li Qun, vowed in Riyadh that China will strengthen efforts to better supervise the heritage site, face climate change, guide local communities to join in protection and regulate tourism to ensure lastingly inherited outstanding universal values of the old tea forests.

“We’ll also advance international exchange and cooperation and take more responsibilities in the World Heritage circle,” he said.

Director of World Heritage Research Center of Peking University Chen Yaohua who has led studies of the site in the past 12 years, said that the practice on Jingmai Mountain is quite unique in the context where large-scaled terraced tea plantations play a dominant role in today’s world.

“It thus presents the ecological ethics and wisdom which can be critically inspiring for sustainable development of the world today,” Chen said.

According to his research, about 10 per cent of tea trees on the mountain are at least 100-years-old, and the oldest ones are over 300.

On Jingmai Mountain, indigenous communities also maintain ancient governance systems to protect the site, including traditional festivals and ceremonies related to Tea Ancestor, a belief that spirits live in forest as well as among local fauna and flora.

Tea leaves contribute to over 90 per cent of the income for those communities.

Other than that, local governments of Yunnan province and Pu’er city released three laws and seven regulations focusing on the protection of the cultural landscape on Jingmai Mountain.

The core zone of the World Heritage Site covers about 72 square kilometres (km2) on Jingmai Mountain. Its buffer zone spreads to about 120km2.

The cultural landscape of old tea forests was first included in China’s tentative list seeking for World Heritage status in 2012. – Wang Kaihao

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