Grand Canal of China

Monday, 18 October 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage
Reading Time:  5 minutes

Grand Canal tour boats in Suzhou © Peter K Burian/cc-by-sa-4.0

Grand Canal tour boats in Suzhou © Peter K Burian/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Grand Canal, known to the Chinese as the Jing–Hang Grand Canal (Capital–Hangzhou Grand Canal, or more commonly, as the Grand Canal), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the longest canal or artificial river in the world. Starting in Beijing, it passes through Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang to the city of Hangzhou, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century BC, but the various sections were first connected during the Sui dynasty (581–618 AD). Dynasties in 1271–1633 significantly restored and rebuilt the canal and altered its route to supply their capital.

The total length of the Grand Canal is 1,776 km (1,104 mi). Its greatest height is reached in the mountains of Shandong, at a summit of 42 m (138 ft). Ships in Chinese canals did not have trouble reaching higher elevations after the pound lock was invented in the 10th century, during the Song dynasty (960–1279), by the government official and engineer Qiao Weiyue. The canal has been admired by many throughout history including Japanese monk Ennin (794–864), Persian historian Rashid al-Din (1247–1318), Korean official Choe Bu (1454–1504), and Italian missionary Matteo Ricci (1552–1610).

Historically, periodic flooding of the Yellow River threatened the safety and functioning of the canal. During wartime, the high dikes of the Yellow River were sometimes deliberately broken in order to flood and thus sweep away advancing enemy troops. This would cause disaster and prolonged economic hardships for local residents. Despite temporary periods of desolation and disuse, the Grand Canal furthered an indigenous and growing economic market in China’s urban centers from the Sui period onwards to the present. It has allowed faster trading and has thus improved China’s economy. The portion south of the Yellow river remains in heavy use by barges carrying bulk materials and containers.

Tianjin Eye and Haihe River, part of the Grand Canal © flickr.com - kele_jb1984/cc-by-sa-2.0 Grand Canal tour boats in Suzhou © Peter K Burian/cc-by-sa-4.0 Grand Canal near its northern end in Beijing © Daniel Case/cc-by-sa-3.0 Grand Canal map © Groverlynn/cc-by-sa-4.0 Jiangnan Canal, part of the Grand Canal © Tomtom08/cc-by-sa-3.0 Old Grand Canal in Yangzhou © Vmenkov/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Tianjin Eye and Haihe River, part of the Grand Canal © flickr.com - kele_jb1984/cc-by-sa-2.0
The Grand Canal nominally runs between Beijing and Hangzhou over a total length of 1,794 km (1,115 mi), however, only the section from Hangzhou to Liangshan County is currently navigable. Its course is today divided into seven sections. From south to north these are the Jiangnan Canal, the Li Canal, the Inner Canal, the Middle Canal, the Lu Canal, the South Canal, the North Canal, and the Tonghui River.

From the Tang to Qing dynasties, the Grand Canal served as the main artery between northern and southern China and was essential for the transport of grain to Beijing. Although it was mainly used for shipping grain, it also transported other commodities and the corridor along the canal developed into an important economic belt. Records show that, at its height, every year more than 8,000 boats transported four to six million dan (240,000–360,000 metric tons) of grain. The convenience of transport also enabled rulers to lead inspection tours to southern China. In the Qing dynasty, the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors made twelve trips to the south, on all occasions but one reaching Hangzhou. The Grand Canal also enabled cultural exchange and political integration to occur between the north and south of China. The canal even made a distinct impression on some of China’s early European visitors. Marco Polo recounted the Grand Canal’s arched bridges as well as the warehouses and prosperous trade of its cities in the 13th century. The famous Roman Catholic missionary Matteo Ricci traveled from Nanjing to Beijing along the canal at the end of the 16th century. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the canal has been used primarily to transport vast amounts of bulk goods such as bricks, gravel, sand, diesel, and coal. The Jianbi ship locks on the Yangtze are currently handling some 75,000,000 tons each year, and the Li Canal is forecast to reach 100,000,000 tons in the next few years. Currently, ships can only travel up to Jining. The section from Jining to Beijing is not available for transport due to the silt deposit buildup from the Yellow River and lack of water sources. There are plans for restoring transportation up to Tai’an.

Read more on China Grand Canal Museum and Wikipedia Grand Canal (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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