Top Picks For You
Southwestern China Travel Guide

PHOTOS: China’s Polychromatic Fairyland

How the Dongchuan farmers painted with the countryside with their crops.

In the northeast of the city of Kunming, in China’s Yunnan Province, is Dongchuan, a rural county tucked deep into the folds of the Wumeng mountains. Spanning over 30 miles, the valley is hemmed with rolling hillsides where the fiery red soil could easily be mistaken as a painting.

According to local folklore, when God was passing through this valley, he accidentally knocked over his palette and dropped his paint here.

Though Dongchuan is often referred to as the color palette of the gods, it is actually the wonderful creation of generations of farmers, whose collective toil has turned this inherently inhospitable land from grazing pastures to vast swathes of multicolored farmlands. A careful selection of drought-resistant crops and the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices have worked wonders for Dongchuan, which is slowly waking up to the future potential of tourism.

1 OF 11

In Mandarin, "Dongchuan" Means "Palette "

Red, green, and yellow ribbons on the freshly cultivated land form an intricate rainbow that stretches on to the horizon. The landscape looks more like a painting with random brushstrokes, which lends this Yunnan county its name.

2 OF 11

Alumina and Iron Lend to the Field’s Colors

The fields of Dongchuan, like here in Jinxiu Yuan (which, roughly translated, means “Embroidered Garden”), are rich in metallic minerals like alumina and iron, which lend to its reddish-brown color palette.

3 OF 11

Farmers Wade Through Muddy Waters to Plant New Crops

While the iron oxide embedded in Dongchuan’s soil imparts its fiery red color, it also makes it infertile. The stony, mountainous terrain prevents croplands from retaining water. Terraced tunnels are painstakingly created to hold water.

4 OF 11

Farmers Use Plasticulture

The local, agro-based community has planted drought-resistant crops for centuries. To make the most out of a land that is inhospitable for cultivation, Dongchuan farmers have resorted to plasticulture—creating tunnels of plastic mulches to retain moisture, control temperature, and keep out weeds and insects.

5 OF 11

Wind Turbines Dot the Horizon

The farmers sustain the fragile ecosystem by opting for traditional means of power generation with wind turbines that dot the undulating landscape slowly grinding their giant wheels.

6 OF 11

A Dongchuan Farmer Returns Home With His Horse

Farming is still done the ancient way. Bullocks and horse-drawn carts are employed to carry the harvest.

7 OF 11

Quaint Villages Surround the Dongchuan Landscape

The small hamlets that dot the Dongchuan landscape seamlessly merge into the colors. While marveling at the amazing landscape, it is an equal delight to soak in the quaint, rural ways of life as the scenic villages are within easy driving distance and can also be reached on foot.

8 OF 11

Wafang Liangzi Is One of the Small Hamlets of Dongchuan County

Here you can get a sweeping view of the polychromatic croplands. It’s also the best place to meet some of the wizened old farmers, elegantly dressed in their sheepskin coats and smoking their traditional long pipe.

9 OF 11

Damakan Is One of the Highest Points of Dongchuan County

Located at its northern fringes at an elevation of 8,200 feet, Damakan is the perfect place to view the terraced fields below. The morning mist and the smoke from the chimneys of the traditional village homes waft through the striated hillside.

10 OF 11

Crops Are Harvested and Stored Across Farmlands

Buckwheat, potatoes, barley, and canola are the main crops of Dongchuan, which are manually harvested and then stored in the quaintly thatched storehouses spread across the rolling acres of farmlands.

11 OF 11

The Plots Allotted to Each Agricultural Family Are Scattered Across the Land

While one plants potato another cultivates wheat, this random allotment has resulted in the splendor that is the croplands’ geometric designs and breathtaking colors.