Harvest

The valleys are filled from end to end with gold, and with people cutting and binding and lifting and loading this gold, laying it in elegant braids, stacking it in shaggy-headed stooks, lifting it into baskets or onto horses to carry their treasure home.

They are all working so hard but they are all so happy, everyone I meet taking a minute to give me a huge smile of satisfaction and pleasure in the golden sunshine and the golden harvest and the blues skies and the long blue shadows, in sweat and dust and the sweet smell of cut stalks. Smiles of possession of riches that have been earned with their two hands, and which they can hold in their two hands; a good crop and work well done and the family fed for the next year.

In Guizhou province they told me no one knows who originally made the terraced fields that turn whole mountains into fantastic mazes; into intricate stairways for giants. They’ve been there for generations, for ever. And the local people now are harvesting the rice the same way they have been (give or take a bit of pesticide) for generations, cutting it with sickles, binding it with straw rope just like those first nameless farmers who so ingeniously fitted the fields to the landscape.

Yet the technology is changing right now, as I watch, as I write. Look down on a valley filled with curves and strips of gold, and you see laden horses plodding along the paths, and you see laden carts pulled by bicycle and by hand, and you see laden small tractors and trucks and sanluche – three-wheeled cabs. You see old women winnowing by pouring grains from a basket into a gigantic tray in a strong wind. You see people winnowing with treadle-worked machines. You see a few mini combine-harvesters trundling round the mini fields, spitting out dust and chaff.

China is all about change. Incredibly, incomprehensibly fast change. Next year I guess there will twice as many combine harvesters; there will be more powerful, bigger ones. Two years after, maybe no one will use horses anymore. In five years time, the terraces will not be big enough for the combine harvesters and tractors, and will the terraces begin to go?

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