The Shangbao Terraces
2022-12-01 11:47

Sitting in the northwest of the mountainous Chongyi County of Jiangxi Province of China, the Shangbao Terraces cover an area of about 3,400 hectares. It is distributed in 26 villages of the three townships of Shangbao, Fengzhou and Sishun. With an altitude ranging from 1,260 meters to 280 meters, the terraces register a vertical drop as large as 1000 meters, of which the largest one features as many as 62 levels of ridges. In 2012, it was certified as the title “the largest Hakka terraces in the world” by the Guinness book of records. In April 2018, it was listed as a “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System” by FAO. In October 2022, it was added to the World Irrigation Project Heritage List.

According to the Classic of Mountains and Seas (an ancient book about a myth of paradise) and other historic documents, the development of the Shangbao Terraces dates back to the pre-Qin period before 221 BC. Later in the Qin and Han dynasties, the terraces gradually took shape. After regular repairs and expansions in the later dynasties of Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing, the terraces eventually obtained its present magnificence. The remains of the stone dog preserved at the Chishui Village of Shangbao Township shed light on the early history of the terraces.

Shaped by the mountainous terrain, the Shangbao Terraces flourish because of water. The densely forested mountains help store abundant water, and the granite mountain structure constitutes an impermeable reservoir. Therefore, rainwater harvested on the mountain top can permeate along the hillside slopes, creating a natural underground water distribution and drainage network.

In general, the Shangbao Terraces adopt gravity irrigation. Besides, other irrigation methods are also applied in different water demand scenarios such as isolated hills and seasonal and meteorological changes. The irrigation system of the terraces can be divided into 3 categories, namely the water storage structures, the canal network, and water flow regulation facilities. There are 3 ways of water storage, including water directly seeping out of the mountain slopes, artificial water storage and distribution structures, and man-made filter and sedimentation facilities. Under the category of canal irrigation network, several sub-categories exist, including those networks diverting water with weirs, delivering water through inverted siphons, using the small plots of farmland as canals, delivering water with aqueducts and bamboo tubes, and lifting water with waterwheels. For the purpose of water flow regulation, water distributing stones and pipeline valves are installed.

At present, the structure and layout of this gravity irrigation system remains intact. As a legacy of the hard work and wisdom of the ancient Chinese people, it has become an important part of the local agro-economy and been making further contribution to the development of irrigation agriculture.