Returning home⑦丨Long-lost Ecological beauty: Stone Terraces Renewal


In golden autumn, the sky is high and the clouds are pale. On September 20, the Wangjinzhuang Village, Shexian County, Hebei Province was elated to see their corn, millet, and sorghum ripening. The yellow and green dry crop stone terraces surrounded by weirs are extending right down from the mountain, seemingly boundless, constituting a unique splendid landscape.


Located in the junction of Shanxi, Hebei and Henan provinces, Shexian County is typically a place deep in the Taihang Mountains. The whole county has mostly barren mountains, but limited arable land, short of water sources, reputed as "having 80 percent of mountain, 5 percent of water sources and 15 percent of cropland". Despite such harsh natural environment, local farmers have made full use of the locally available resources to build stone weirs, filling up the spaces inside to plant crops.

河北涉县旱作梯田系统是北方旱作石堰梯田最具代表性的系统之一,其中规模最大的梯田位于井店镇王金庄区片。杨彦忠 摄

The Shexian Dry-crop Stone Terrace System is the most representative in northern China. The largest of all is that in the Wangjiazhuang Village of the town of Jingdian. (Photo by Yang Yanzhong)


"The terraces have reached up to the top of the mountain”said He Xianlin, deputy director of the Shexian County Agricultural and Rural Affairs Bureau. The terraces have a history of over 700 years. Built by the local people from generation to generations, the terraces start from the foot of the mountain to reach up to the top, covering more than 70 percent of the slopes, except the steeples and cliffs. At present, the terrace system covers 204.35 square kilometers, benefitting 46 administrative villages. While securing a stable livelihood for the local people, they have the functions of conserving soil and water and improving the environment.


"In our place, soil is dearer than gold. The soil on the terraces has been dug out from the crevices of stones. The people take soil so dearly that they even put back to the field the dust in their shoes,”said Wang Linding, a native farmer of the Wangjinzhuang Village, adding that he feels heart-ache to see the terraces left by the forerunners go barren and wasted.

在河北涉县王金庄村,秋日的梯田如链似带,层层叠叠,线条分明,宛若大地的“调色盘”。长城网·冀云客户端记者 邓光韬 摄

In Wangjinzhuang, the terraces in autumn are like necklaces or ribbons, layer upon layer, with clear lines. They look like a giant "palette"on the land. (Photo by Deng Guangtao/Great Wall New Media)


In Wang Linding's memory, many of the young people in the village left their hometown to find jobs in other places, leaving many terrace fields barren and wasted.

"Later, the local government led the people in protecting the terraces and restoring the ecology. When an express highway was built on the Taihang Mountains, they are able to sell millet and wild pepper to other places. Our stone weir fields began to revive and many young people have returned,”said Wang Dinglin, revealing his strong love for this piece of land where he was born and grow.


Wang Linding and his wife are driving their donkey to start a day's work.“We have planted in this piece of land Laohuanggu (millet), which has abundant liquid floating on the surface of the gruel cooked and tastes good. It could hardly imagine how pleasant it tastes,”said Wang Linding, holding the plump millet ears and grinning from ear to ear.

9月20日,涉县农业农村局副局长贺献林在旱作石堰梯田观察记录老品种的生长情况。长城网·冀云客户端记者 邓光韬 摄

On September 20, He Xianlin is observing and recording the growth of old varieties in the terraces. (Photo by Deng Guangtao/Great Wall New Media)


"The grain is full. The stalk is strong. The ears are long and big. The old seed has been preserved at last," said He Xianlin, walking slowly along the slope, stopping from time to time to see the crop.

"Over the past few years, such traditional species like Heiruangu, disappeared here. After investigations, we found that it was planted on a small scale in other villages. Then we collected some seeds and sowed them in the base for purification and rejuvenation of old species,”He said.


The 58-year-old He Xianlin has been working in the terraces for more than 20 years, dedicating his energy to the protection and utilization of stone terraces. To him, old seeds represent the abundance of biodiversity in the local area and are an important carrier of farming civilization. The Wangjinzhuang Seed Bank has collected and managed seeds covering 26 families, 57 genera and 77 species, many of which have a history of over 100 years.


"By surveying and collecting traditional species, we have preserved the basic genetic genes of traditional species and gone on to use their genes to select and cultivate new varieties so as to increase yields and the income for farmers,”said He.

He Xianlin and his team have purified and rejuvenated more than 60 old varieties, such as Xiaoheidou (black grains) and Hongruangu (millet), making them grow back in the terraces, ensuring that they increase yields with better quality.

河北涉县旱作石堰梯田系统不仅提供了丰富的食物种类,同时在土壤、水和生物多样性保护方面发挥着重要作用。长城网·冀云客户端记者 段维佳 摄

The terrace system has not only provided abundant varieties of food, but also played an important role in conserving soil, water and biodiversity. (Photo by DuanWeijia/Great Wall New Media)


In recent years, Shexian has made great efforts to protect and develop the terrace fields.“We have planted trees around the terraces to conserve water and soil and ward off natural disasters,”said Li Hebao, first-class senior section member of the Shexian Forestry Development Service Center.

From the 1990s to the present, they have carried out integrated control of the ecology of the terraces by planting trees. They have planted such medicinal herbs as Weeping Forsythia Capsule to raise the added value of the land.


"All local farmers are well aware of protecting the ecology. They no longer herd their sheep on the mountain or cut firewood, conscientiously reducing the artificial intervention and damage to the natural environment,”said Li Hebao.

The improvement in the ecology has lured back such wild animals as pheasant and badger and such wild plant known as Edible Kudzuvine Root, indicating the harmonious co-existence between man and nature. This ancient stone weir terraces have put on a new look and displayed its new posture.


In the Liujia Village, less than five kilometers away from Wangjinzhuang, the local people are busy selecting and airing out pepper, with the We Media worker "Rural A'kai" nearby doing livestreaming marketing.

河北涉县“90后”小伙刘志凯,把祖辈留下来的梯田风光拍成短视频发到网上,让更多的人知道自己的家乡。长城网·冀云客户端记者 段维佳 摄

Liu Zhikai, a post-90s young man in Shexian County, has made a short video of the terraces and uploaded it onto the Internet to make it known to more people. (Photo by Duan Weijia/Great Wall New Media)


"Rural A'kai" is the nickname of Liu Zhikai, a member of the Liujia Village. He used to work in a city for many years. He returned home in 2016 to start up a business, gradually becoming a We-Media worker. He has recorded with his camera the changes in the hometown terraces and made a thousand micro videos, which have attracted 1.83 million fans.


By using the network short videos, Liu Zhikai has not only disseminated the beautiful landscapes of his hometown but also contributed to the marketing of local farm produce. "Last year, we sold 15,000 kilograms of millet, 1,250 kilograms of pepper, collecting an income of more than 100,000 yuan,”said Liu, who has become even more enthusiastic when seeing his folks living a better life by relying on the terraces.


On May 20, 2022, Shexian terrace system was officially recognized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and was inscribed in the list of Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems.

Editor: Li Wenpei