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Jingmai Mountain’s Ancient Tea Forests: A New UNESCO World Heritage Site

CultureJingmai Mountain's Ancient Tea Forests: A New UNESCO World Heritage Site

The storied tea forests of Jingmai Mountain, nestled in Pu’er City in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, have garnered global attention. They were recently inscribed as a World Heritage site during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. With this latest inclusion, China’s tally of sites honored by UNESCO now stands at 57.

Sprawling across 72 square kilometers, Jingmai Mountain’s heritage site encompasses nine traditional villages, three ancient tea plantations cultivated by local residents for several generations, and three protected forests that act as natural partitions. These venerable tea plantations are home to over a million tea trees, as stated by the Aministration for the Conservation of Old Tea Forests of Jingmai Mountain in Pu’er.

Jingmai Mountain’s recognition is a significant milestone as it becomes the world’s inaugural World Heritage site dedicated to tea culture. Chen Yaohua, from Peking University’s World Heritage Research Center, hailed the site as a beacon of “ecological ethics and wisdom,” emphasizing the deep-rooted harmony between humanity and nature. This ancient landscape stands as a testament to the principles of sustainable development practiced by generations past, serving as a beacon for our modern world.

The indigenous Blang and Dai people have a rich history intertwined with these tea forests. The Blang ancestors, who migrated to Jingmai Mountain in the 10th century AD, discovered and domesticated wild tea trees. The Dai people, who arrived later, further enriched the culture. Over the centuries, these communities have preserved an ingenious cultivation technique, ensuring the optimal light conditions for tea trees while also keeping insect pests at bay. This sustainable approach, rooted in local religious beliefs and traditions, stands as a stellar example of early forest-based agriculture.

Pu’er tea, a celebrated product of these ancient forests, has a rich tapestry of history that spans dynasties. It traces its boom to the Han Dynasty, trade prominence in the Tang Dynasty, widespread acclaim during the Ming era, and flourished remarkably in the Qing Dynasty. Today’s Pu’er tea, a post-fermented dark tea variant, has evolved over time, with modern production methodologies integrating traditional practices like pile fermentation and warehouse seasoning.

In contemporary times, local villagers still uphold traditions by processing and selling a portion of the freshly harvested tea leaves. The bulk, however, goes to cooperatives, ensuring unified manufacturing and distribution.

Jingmai Mountain’s unique geographical boundaries encompass diverse landscapes, from old tea plantations in the east to the valley of the Nanmen River and the peaks of Bangyaoshan Mountain in the south.

With this latest addition to its roster of World Heritage sites, China continues to shine on the global stage, boasting 39 cultural sites, 14 natural wonders, and four mixed heritage sites that celebrate both culture and nature.


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