The Dai irrigation system and Environmental Protection in Xishuangbanna


On the Dais Traditional Irrigation System and Environmental Protection in Xishuangbanna.- Gao Lishi. Yunnan Nationalities Press. Kunming, 1999. Bilingual Chinese-English. 630 pp

The book, apparently dealing with the Irrigation System and Environmental Protection, introduces the reader a rather comprehensive overview of the economic life, cultural characteristics and political institutions of the pre-communist Xishuangbanna. Along it we are repeatedly informed of the benefits than had for the region ecosystem, not only the irrigation system of the Dai but also the slash and burn agriculture of the mountain people surrounding them, and that is favorably compared with the production system imposed after 1949 that lead to a massive destruction of the forest and waterways of Xishuangbanna.

In the book the irrigation system of the Dais is shown as related with all aspects of their traditional culture. The first chapter, dealing with Water Worship, describes the mythic components of the water in the Dai culture. The second is an overview of the ecological importance of the Long forest preserved near every Dai village, and their function in the preservation of biodiversity, in keeping a more stable weather conditions, and protection against disasters of flood and fire; the third integrates the Dai rice culture in the sustainable use of this environment; the following chapter let the reader knows how the bamboo house of the Dai became the fittest lodging for their environment and way of life.

Posterior chapters, in some way of more technical character, describe the way the irrigation works were constructed and maintained, how the flow of water was shared between the different communities along the water source, and how the need to administer, maintain and control the irrigation works, permitted the creation of a noble class and a two-classes division of the society.

The political structure and administrative system of Xishuangbanna is introduced in all his complexity, the blatant inequality of the old Dai society is not hidden, but sincerely exposed. Different administrative units, going down from the supreme rule of the Zhaopianling, master of the whole Xishuangbanna, to the rulers of the 30 mengs that composed his territory, the Hoxi below them and the villages or man, are exhaustively described, as well as is specified the political authorities in each of these administrative units. The crude reality shown in the description of the administrative organization of the old Xishuangbanna, gives maybe more value to the author emphasis in the environmental protection of it.

It is a pity that a so valuable study about the Dai society in Xishuangbanna is so difficult to read inside and outside of China.

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