The Grand canal
the Grand Canal forms a vast inland waterway system in the north-eastern and central eastern plains of China, passing through eight of the country’s present-day provinces. It runs from the capital Beijing in the north to Zhejiang Province in the south. Constructed in sections from the fifth century B.C. onward, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Chinese Empire for the first time in the seventh century A.D. (Sui Dynasty). This led to a series of gigantic worksites, creating the world’s largest and most extensive civil engineering project ensemble prior to the Industrial Revolution. Completed and maintained by successive dynasties, it formed the backbone of the Empire’s inland communications system.
Its management was made possible over a long period by means of the Caoyun system, the imperial monopoly for the transportation of grain and strategic raw materials, and for the taxation and control of traffic. The system enabled the supply of rice to feed the population, the unified administration of the territory and the transport of troops. The Grand Canal reached a new peak in the 13th century (Yuan Dynasty), providing a unified inland navigation network consisting of more than 2,000 km of artificial waterways, linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
The Grand Canal is the longest and oldest canal in the world, representing the greatest masterpiece of hydraulic engineering in the history of mankind. It contributed to the fundamental link between the peasant economy, the imperial court and the supply of food to the population and troops. Still a major means of internal communication today, it has played an important role in ensuring the economic prosperity and stability of China over the ages.
info Listed as a World Cultural Heritage in 2014 location: From Beijing through eight provinces to Zhejiang, east China best time to visit: Spring and autumn tips Visit one section at a time, preferably at Tongzhou (Beijing), Suzhou (Jiangsu, east China) or Hangzhou (Zhejiang). A boat tour at night is recommended in some sections (e.g. Suzhou).