Cen­turies- Old Wa­ter Trans­port

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

In China's long his­tory, the Grand Canal has served the Chi­nese for more than 1,000 years, fa­cil­i­tat­ing trade of goods be­tween north­ern and south­ern China and demon­strat­ing Chi­nese wis­dom and re­solve and achieve­ments in wa­ter di­ver­sion tech­nol­ogy and man­age­ment. To­day, the Grand Canal still plays a ma­jor role in trans­porta­tion, flood con­trol, ir­ri­ga­tion and wa­ter sup­ply af­ter its con­tin­u­ous de­vel­op­ment and evo­lu­tion.

Look­ing back on the An­cient Grand Canal

To build a canal or di­vert wa­ter in a vast space re­quires courage and as­pi­ra­tion. In the late Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod, all the vas­sal states strug­gled to ex­pand their ter­ri­to­ries, which re­sulted in fre­quent bat­tles. King Fuchai (reign: 495–473 BC) of Wu State (12th cen­tury–473 BC) or­dered to build a water­course in the vicin­ity of Yangzhou for con­nect­ing the Yangtze River and Huaihe River via the Sheyang Lake with an aim to con­quer the Cen­tral Plains.

Af­ter Em­peror Yang (AD 569–618) of the Sui Dy­nasty (AD 581–618) as­cended the throne, he or­dered peo­ple to build a south-north canal, con­nect­ing many an­cient chan­nels, nat­u­ral rivers and dry wa­ter­courses. This about-2,700-kilo­me­tre Grand Canal stretches through Bei­jing, Tian­jin, He­bei, Shan­dong, He­nan, An­hui, Jiangsu and Zhe­jiang and con­nects five bod­ies of wa­ter—the Yel­low, Huaihe, Yangtze, Qiantang and Haihe rivers.

In 1280, the gov­ern­ment of the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368) ini­ti­ated a large-scale ren­o­va­tion of the north­ern sec­tion of the Grand Canal of the Sui Dy­nasty.

Nine years later, the Huitong Canal was built to link Zaozhuang and Lin­qing and meet the Yongji Chan­nel of the Sui Dy­nasty. In 1292, the gov­ern­ment led to dredge the Tonghui River to con­nect Tongzhou and Dadu (in to­day's Bei­jing).

There­fore, the canal suc­cess­fully con­nected Bei­jing and Hangzhou by virtue of nat­u­ral wa­ter­courses and canals built in the Sui and Tang dynasties as well as

Tonghui, Huitong and Jizhou rivers, and the Bei­jing-hangzhou Grand Canal thus came into be­ing. This 1,794-kilo­me­tre-long canal was about 900 kilo­me­tres shorter than the canal of the Sui and Tang dynasties by cut­ting cor­ners.

The Zhe­dong Canal also has a long his­tory, ex­tend­ing about 239 kilo­me­tres start­ing from Xix­ing Sub-district, Bin­jiang District, Hangzhou in the west and end­ing at the es­tu­ary of the Yongjiang River in Ningbo via the Cao'e River and Shaox­ing.

Ini­tially, the canal was ex­ca­vated in Shaox­ing in the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod and named An­cient Shanyin Water­course. In the West­ern Jin (AD 265–316), He Xun (AD 260–319) led the canal's ex­ca­va­tion from Xix­ing on the east­ern bank of Qiantang River to the city of Huiji to build the Xix­ing Canal.

Later, this canal and the canal east of Cao'e River con­sti­tuted a com­plete canal from the Qiantang River in the west to the East Sea in the east. This canal and nat­u­ral wa­ter­courses of the Yao­jiang and Yongjiang rivers con­sti­tute the Zhe­dong Canal.

There­fore, the Grand Canal in­scribed on the World Her­itage List con­sists of three parts: the Grand Canal of the Sui and Tang dynasties, the Bei­jing-hangzhou Grand Canal and Zhe­dong Canal.

Trade be­tween North­ern and South­ern China

Em­per­ors of dif­fer­ent dynasties nearly had the same goal to ac­quire nec­es­sary sup­plies through wa­ter trans­porta­tion when they ex­ca­vated the canals. Thus, canals once shoul­dered an im­por­tant duty to guar­an­tee Bei­jing's food sup­ply.

Such canal-based trans­porta­tion of food was val­ued in the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, so peo­ple built a canal net­work to sup­ply the north with food from the south. In the process, they es­tab­lished wa­ter trans­porta­tion and ware­hous­ing sys­tems.

Canals didn't only help meet demands for food but also brought to the north silk, tea, bam­boo, wood, lac­quer, pot­ter­ies and porce­lains and other ma­te­ri­als from the south. Mean­while, some prod­ucts such as pinewood, leather and coal were also trans­ported from north to south. Trans­ac­tions of goods of­fered more op­por­tu­ni­ties and op­tions to peo­ple. In a rel­a­tively longer pe­riod, the canal-based econ­omy was a main force driv­ing China's eco­nomic growth.

Some hubs along canals de­vel­oped into pros­per­ous and vi­brant cities such as Yangzhou. It took about three or four hun­dred years for Yangzhou to ac­cu­mu­late its wealth based on the salt trade along the canal. As a ma­jor­ity of China's salt was dis­trib­uted na­tion­wide via Yangzhou, it be­came an in­dis­pens­able city for trade.

The Canal’s New Looks

Cur­rently, Bei­jing has shifted the role of the canal from a trans­porta­tion water­course into a recre­ation and leisure pub­lic fa­cil­ity.

In re­cent years, a wa­ter­borne tour has opened to the pub­lic at Tongzhou Grand Canal Park. Tourists have a chance to view scenery along the canal by board­ing an old-style ship. When the ship runs on the Grand Canal, tourists can view the Cen­turies- Old De­vel­op­ment Way, Sail­shaped Light Boxes, Stone Clus­ter at Wa­ter Source and other spots.

The ship turns back at the Wa­ter Trans­port Wharf, which is home to one street char­ac­terised by tra­di­tional crafts and snacks as well as old- style build­ings. When the ship ar­rives at Grand Canal For­est Park on the lower reaches, the time- hon­oured Grand Canal looks as smooth as a mir­ror and rests be­side a wa­ter­side ur­ban land­scape con­sist­ing of old bridges, wil­lows, boats, green wa­ter and blue sky.

The 8-kilo­me­tre-long North Canal me­an­ders through many scenic spots with canal cul­ture, in­clud­ing a beau­ti­ful bank dot­ted with peach blos­soms and wil­lows, an an­cient wharf, a moon-shaped is­land and maple and gingko forests.

The Grand Canal con­tin­ues to di­ver­sify Bei­jing's ur­ban sprawl as Tongzhou's res­i­dents pur­sue leisure and a healthy life­style. This tran­quil canal sees Tongzhou de­vel­op­ing into Bei­jing's ur­ban sub- cen­tre.

Wa­ter Trans­port Wharf along the Grand Canal in Tongzhou

Tongzhou Sec­tion of the Grand Canal

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