The village of Hejia Yan

This village was created 800 years ago and is named after the local community. Which therefore means : «the Hej family’s rock». Current local population : 557 persons distributed in 158 traditional wooden houses. With a first site inspection comes the discovery of a vast landscape of structured hills made of terraced rice paddies. The village itself follows a stair-step configuration near the flanks of the Qingshi Baijiayan cliff and is dominated, on the left, by the rocky outcrop named Dawang. On the right side of the village is Mount Xianren Jiaoban, famous for its local legendary tales, and for its spring, the Longdong, which is renowned for the quality of its mineral water. The rice paddies form perfectly horizontal water bodies divided by fragile-looking, narrow earthen slopes. With earth in the form of stilt, the water in these plots is approximately 30 cm deep. The water collected upstream successively travels the land, led by opening and plugging devices located in the dykes. The culture that is developed here is respectful of the ecosystem. This rice, called « the Emperor’s rice » is guaranteed without fertilizers or pesticides. Ducks and fishes are used to protect the rice plants against destructive larvae. Buffaloes are used for the plowing of the rice fields, and this excludes any type of mechanization. While rice farming is currently the village’s sole economic resource, a wish to open it to tourist’s activities is observed through such amenities as a concrete belvedere, relatively well integrated and overseeing the entire site, as well as a guesthouse to host passing travelers.

While the new constructions are built in a volumetry similar to that of the older ones, they are made of concrete blocks and then covered with wood siding. Yet these new constructions are roofed with small black tiles identical to those of the older houses, and details of assembly, ridge tiles etc., are the same as those of traditional constructions. Craftsmen use traditional tools and reconstructions show respect for traditional assemblage, framing and carpentry techniques.

Points for consideration :

A conversation with Mr. Ding Sheng, Vice County Mayor in charge of tourism, confirms the necessity of promoting the rice paddy landscape as heritage worthy of protection. In this respect, it bears noting that there already exists in China an identical landscape that is protected by Unesco. Part of our discussion focuses on the dangers of mass tourism and on its ecological alternative, which requires the local population’s awareness of the need to respect local typologies, preserving a heritage that is currently in poor shape and enhancing it. Attention must be paid to the ecosystem’s fragilty. Comparisons are drawn with Stonehenge in England, Venice Lagoon in Italy. Clearly here, the beauty of the site is linked to the age-old way of cultivating the earth. Strengths can be found not only in this exceptional site and a landscape-habitat that produces a powerful genius loci, to quote Nobert-Schultz, but also in economic resources connected to the quality of the rice cultivated through sustainable farming. This factor is brought forth by human skills such as motivation, hospitality, openness, know-how and the pride taken in cultural identity. Such potentialities certainly point to specific types of actions to be developed.