World Cultural Heritage site and after: Changes in traditional water worship and water governance in Hani societies from Southwest China

Authors: Yiqiang Xu*, Yunnan Normal University, Department of Sociology
Topics: China, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Southwest China, Hani ethnic minority, water worship, water governance, cultural change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: 8210, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


China’s Yunnan Province Honghe Hani Rice Terraces have been a masterpiece of the Hani people for generations. For over 1,300 years, local people have creatively developed customary water governance and distribution systems. These have allowed to channel water from high mountaintops to lower rice terraces, and to implement water allocation arrangements between households. Water has long been worshipped and sacrifices performed to ensure the benevolence of water gods. These rites testify to the complex links between the social and cultural functions that water uphold for Hani people. Chief among these functions is the need to sustain ecological circumstances at the core of Hani social organizations.

In 2013, UNESCO listed the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces as a World Cultural Heritage. Since, important changes have occurred. First, Hani villages are increasingly involved in ethnic cultural tourism, and some villagers have instrumentalize Water God worshipping rites. The customary water sacrifice culture is gradually losing its sacred meanings, and is becoming a tourism attraction.

Second , as tourist companies reap most benefits from entry tickets sales, local Hani farmers do not benefit much from their customary domain being listed as World Heritage site, and from the expansion of the touristic sector this has driven.

Third, in recent years, large number of rural youth engage in work migration, terraced fields are increasingly abandoned, and many young people are unwilling to learn terraced farming techniques.

This paper unpacks how these individual changes manifest and how they influence local water worship, governance and distribution systems.

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