The Grand Canal–A Great Project Next to the Great Wall

Speaking of the Grand Canal, Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty must be mentioned, who was the second emperor of the Sui Dynasty which lasted for only 38 years (from 581 to 619). He was famous for being a tyrant, but one of the things he did still benefits Chinese people now. Yes, it’s the Grand Canal. Although the canal was considered a sheer waste of money and manpower at the time (the opening of the canal greatly increased the burden on the people, and to a certain extent, it hastened the collapse of the dynasty), it played an important role for the later generations. For example, it improved north-south transportation and facilitated economic and cultural exchanges between the north and the south.

Emperor Yang of Sui Dynasty

Actually, ancient Chinese people started digging canals as early as the Spring and Autumn Period (from 770 to 476 B.C.), during which the canals were comparatively small and only used for military purposes. For instance, King Fu Chai of Wu State ordered people to build the Hangou Canal so as to send his army to attack Qi State. Another example is the Honggou Canal dug by King Hui of Wei State which also served the needs of war. However, as time went on, the function of the canals also changed. The canals whose original mission was to transporting troops were used for delivering strategic materials, and the scope was further expanded to various other materials.

Grand Canal

After Emperor Yang ascended the throne, he moved the capital to Luoyang. In order to control the vast areas in the south of the Yangtze River and get the abundant materials in the region transported to Luoyang, he sent more than one million people to dig the Grand Canal. With Luoyang as the center, the Grand Canal was based on the canals excavated by his predecessors. Stretching 1,794 kilometers, it is the longest ancient canal in the world and praised as one of the three great projects of ancient China (the other two are the Great Wall and karez, an irrigation system of wells connected by underground channel used in Xinjiang). The Grand Canal starts from Hangzhou in the south and ends in Beijing in the north, flowing through four provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hebei and two cites of Beijing and Tianjin, and linking the five major river systems of Haihe River, Yellow River, Huaihe River, Yangtze River, and Qiantang River. Its water mainly comes from Weishan Lake in Weishan County, Shandong Province.

Grand Canal

Now the Grand Canal is over 2,500 years old. On June 22, 2014, the Grand Canal was announced to be included in the World Cultural Heritage List and became China’s 46th world heritage project on the 38th World Heritage Conference. It’s truly a living history book. It has crossed time and space and witnessed the rise and fall of the cities on the banks. If you want to know the countless stories that have happened along the canal, you really should come and see it for yourself someday. If you ask what’s the best way to explore the Grand Canal, the answer will always be taking a boat. For travelers to Beijing, Hangzhou, Yangzhou, Suzhou, etc., you can go to appreciate the beauty of this quiet ancient canal on a cruise. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need detailed information.

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