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The Grand Canal in China


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Apart from the world-famous great wall, there is another famous great wall in China, which is considered as the great wall on the water. It is the Grand Canal from Beijing to Hangzhou. Great Wall of China across the northern China, exactly from the northeast China to the northwest China, anciently played the important role of defense and protection for the social security. It used to be a military project for guaranteeing the development of economy and society. But today, it is nonfunctional to military defense but a historic and cultural relic to review the past of China. While the Grand Canal is still alive, and always shows its great importance to the development of China; From Beijing to Hangzhou, The Grand Canal goes across China from north to south, and connects the northern economy with southern development, and has tremendously promoted the development of economy since Sui and Tang Dynasties. It is an important site of cultural and historic heritage in China, and also a world cultural heritage site approved officially in 2014. Today, a national themed museum named China Grand Canal Museum has been built in Hangzhou.

The Basic Information of Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal

Grand Canal of China(中国大运河) with a full name of Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal(京杭大运河), and generally called Grand Canal for short, is the longest and oldest ancient artificial canal in the world, with a total length of 1794 kilometers. It has 16 times longer than Suez Canal, and 33 times longer than Panama Canal. Staring from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south, it crosses Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei province(Shijiazhuang as the capital), Shandong province(Jinan as the capital), Jiangsu province(Nanjing as the capital) and Zhejiang province(Hangzhou as the capital), and finally makes Hai River(海河), Yellow River(黄河), Huai River(淮河) and Yangtze River(长江) and Qiantang River (钱塘江) in connections. Due to the long-time disrepair, currently, it just has a traffic mileage of 1442 kilometers, and all-year opened section is only 877 kilometers, generally on the south of Yellow River. Grand Canal does a great contribution to the south-north economic balancing, development and interaction, as well as the cultural and political integration, especially largely promotes the industrial and agricultural development on both sides. Together with Great Wall(长城) and Kariz(坎儿井, a popularized and traditional water conservancy and irrigation system in northwest China, mainly in Xinjiang Autonomous Region), it is one of three greatest ancient projects of China.

In ancient times, the land transportation mainly replied on the manpower and animal power, the slower speed, the less capacity, and the higher consumption really bad for the large and long-distance transportation on the land. Therefore, much large transportation depended on the waterway. Generally, the large rivers generally extended from west to east. But, in history, the area of Yellow River was always in warfare, and the waterways were broken or ruined. While, the relatively peaceful region of Yangtze River, the whole development got a vivid achievement, and Since Wei and Jin Dynasties, the economic center of China was moved to southern China when the political and military center was still in northern China. To guarantee the interconnection and the non-stop transportation of the taxes and materials from south to capitals, a North-South Waterway was scheduled to be opened. The officially opened period of Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal was reign of Emperor Yangdi in Sui Dynasty. It was traditionally regarded as the lifeline of China. In Ming and Qing Dynasties, a special governmental office comprised of many branches and sites, named Caoyun Zongdu(漕运总督, the governing office of the water transport of grains to the capital), was established in Huaian(淮安), Jiangsu province. Before the flourish of sea transportation and modern highway transportation, Grand Canal was the chief way to south-north transportation, and cargo traffic volume covers approximately 3/4 of all in China.

The Geography of Beijing- Hangzhou Grand Canal

The geographic areas that the Grand Canal flow through include Tongzhou District of Beijing, Wuqing District of Tianjin, Langfang, Cangzhou, Hengshui and Xingtai of Hebei province, Dezhou, Taian, Liaocheng, Jining and Zaozhuang of Shandong province, Xuzhou, Suqian, Huaian, Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Changzhou, Wuxi and Suzhou of Jiangsu province, as well as Jiaxing, Huzhou and Hangzhou of Zhejiang province, roughly comprised of 20 cities of China. The area along the Grand Canal is one of the most richest and developed areas in China with a great industrial system. Yanzhou, Jining, Zaozhuang, Tengzhou, Feng County, Pei County, Xuzhou and Pizhou are all the important coal mining centers. Shanghai, Nanjing, Xuzhou, Zhenjiang, Changzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Hangzhou are all the industrial cities of China.

the history of the grand canal the geographic map of the grand canal
This historical map of the Grand Canal The geographic map of Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal

History of China Grand Canal Hangzhou Grand Canal Night Cruise Tour
The Grand Canal Picture Gallery
A series of themed pictures in pinterest
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For absolutely reviving this gold waterway, the governments of Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces do lots of repairs, extensions and canalization. Today, it is the second most important waterway next to Yangtze River. The main ports include Jining, Xuzhou, Pizhou, Huaiyin, Huaian, Baoying, Gaoyou, Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Changzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou, Wujiang and Hangzhou. Some people compare it as The Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway on the water. List of Thirty-Five Cities on the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal hereinafter:

Province / Municipality Cities
Beijing Beijing (Tongzhou District)
Tianjin Tianjin (Wuqing District)
Hebei Langfang, Cangzhou, Hengshui, Handan, Xingtai
Henan Anyang, Hebi, Xinxiang, Jiaozuo, Luoyang, Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, Shangqiu
Shandong Dezhou, Liaocheng, Tai’an, Ji’ning, Zaozhuang
Jiangsu Huaibei, Suzhou
Anhui Xuzhou, Suqian, Huai’an, Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Changzhou, Wuxi,Suzhou
Zhejiang Jiaxing, Huzhou, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Ningbo

Grand Canal, A world heritage route comprised of the UNESCO heritage sites

On June 22, 2014, The Grand Canal was officially approved to be a site written into the list of world cultural heritage sites. It is China’s 32sd world cultural heritage site and the 46th world heritage site. Just mentioned above, The Grand Canal ranging from Beijing to Hangzhou has a history more than 2000 years, and currently is the longest and oldest canal waterway throughout the world. The significance and importance of the Grand Canal lie in putting many world cultural heritage sites of the different regions in line.

It is a live economic lifeline linking the northern China’s Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan Economic Circle and Round-Bohai- Sea Economic Rim to Southeastern China’s Yangtze River Delta Economic Region. The southern China’s material could be easily transported to the northern China through this waterway, for instance, the Nanmu precious wood material exclusively used for building the imperial palaces is available only in southwest China. The transportation is quite complicated, firstly it was moved to Hangzhou or cities nearby through the Yangtze River, and then transported northwardly along the Grand Canal to Beijing. So for developing the northern China, many materials and products are transported in this way. This is a long-standing lifeline for economic development. However, up to the later Qing Dynasty, especially since the signing of the Nankin Treaty (1842) after the Opium War I, the conventional seclusion or isolation policy strictly followed by Qing Dynasty was forced to be canceled, and then the large scale of oceanic or sea transportation bloomed and gradually took the place of the Grand Canal in the importance of connecting the southern and northern China. After a century-old desolation, the Grand Canal is partially defunctionalized, some parts are blocked, in middle and northern China. It is a pity indeed.

The Grand Canal is a quite famous cultural belt reserving the valued genes of culture of China. The Confucianism, the Taoism, the Buddhism, the primitive mysticism like the Heluo Culture etc., upgrades this line. Many cultural sites, some of which have been included in the list of world cultural heritage sites such as The Forbidden City of Ming and Qing Dynasties, Qufu’s Architectural Complex in memory of Confucius, The Architectural Complex of Songshan Mountain including Shaolin Monastery, Longmen Buddhist Art Grottoes, Taishan Mountain including the Dai Temple, Nishan Mountain, the birthplace of Confucius, Yishan Mountain including the valued calligraphy inscription steles here, The building complex of Zoucheng in memory of Meng Zi, The Han Dynasty’s Prince Mausoleum in Xuzhou with the small-size amazing terracotta figurines, The Slender West Lake and the Classical Gardens in Yangzhou, The Jinshan Mountain of Zhenjiang, The private classical garden complexes in Wuxi and Suzhou, the West Lake of Hangzhou, and the related tourist attractions like Tangqi Ancient Town, The Grand Canal Museum, Gongchen Bridge Historic Zone, Xiangji Temple of Hangzhou and so on.

The sections included in the site of the Grand Canal are comprised of three parts – Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, Sui-Tang Dynasties’ Grand Canal and East Zhejiang Grand Canal. Beijing- Hangzhou Grand Canal is the current main line through Beijing, Hebei province, Tianjin, Shandong province, Jiangsu province and Zhejiang province. Sui-Tang Dynasties’ Grand Canal covering today’s Henan province and Anhui province. Zhedong Grand Canal is an extension to the southern part of Zhejiang exactly, the Cao’e River in Shaoxing, and finally connecting with the sea in Ningbo.

For traveling in east China, the success of the Grand Canal accepted as the world heritage site will be largely pushing the construction, restoration and protection jobs. Wuxi, Suzhou and Hangzhou have their own special service of cruise travel along the Grand Canal, and the tourists’ feedback is good. However, the intercity cruise trip has been paused for many years, especially the cruise travel between Hangzhou and Suzhou, two paradise cities in China. Many old hangzhou citizens remember that, twenty years ago (the writing time is 2014), there was an intercity Grand Canal waterway transportation service from Wulin Gate Wharf of Hangzhou to Suzhou and Wuxi. At dark, the cruise begun its service, and several hours later, the cruise went across Tangqi Ancient Town, Xinshi, and then the passengers enjoyed their dreams on the cruise. They would wake up when arrived in Suzhou on the next day’s morning. This is a nice memory of the old generation. So the cruise service could be available now as well.

The grand canal Hangzhou The grand canal Wuxi
The fantastic panoramic view of Gongchen Bridge Historic Zone in the Grand Canal section of Hangzhou The picturesque landscape of the Grand Canal goes across the downtown area of Wuxi, Jiangsu province

The Protection of the Grand Canal in China

After the success of the Grand Canal being the site of UNESCO World Heritage, a large protection organized by the government will be launched. The 18 riverside cities (Beijing, Tianjin, Cangzhou, Hengshui, Dezhou, Liaocheng, Taian, Jining, Zaozhuang, Suqian, Huaian, Yangzhou, Changzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou, Huzhou, Jiaxing and Hangzhou) work together to protect and beautify this ancestral miracle.

Actually in the ancient times, the protection was organized by the country to keep the waterway opening. The protection is for tourism. It was also an ideal route for tourism of the Emperors. Emperor Yangdi loved the landscapes of Jiangnan very much, and always took the grand dragon cruise departing from Luoyang to southern China. And he gave his surname to the willow, and since then, the willows in China are called Yang Liu.

In Yuan Dynasty, in the century 12, Marco Polo, a famous Italian traveler, arrived in Hangzhou along the Grand Canal from Changan, he praised Hangzhou as the world’s most beautiful and luxurious heavenly city. In Qing Dynasty, Emperor Kangxi had six times visits to Hangzhou through the Grand Canal from 1684 to 1707. Emperor Qianlong also had six times visits to Hangzhou from 1754 to 1784. But their visits were not only for leisure but also for strengthening their ruling, especially having a good relationship with the celebrities and influential figures in Jiangnan Region. Today, the historical sites we see like The Imperial Stele, The Imperial Wharf, Gongchen Bridge are all sourced from the stories related to these Emperors. These were the part to protect the Grand Canal.

The Grand Canal is also a witness to see the communication of China and western society. Matteo Ricci, a famous Christianity missionary of Italy with the help of Wang Zhongde, the minister of the ritual ministry of Ming Dynasty, went to Beijing from Nanjing through the Grand Canal to meet the Emperor of Ming Dynasty. After the Geographic Discovery, more European missionaries came to China to spread the Jesus’ sayings. They crossed China from north to south, and Tianshui Church, Tangqi Christian Church and other centers of Christianity appeared in Hangzhou. Today, the third world-class travel itinerary will be designed themed with the Grand Canal, next to The Great Wall route and The Silk Road Route. The activities will include the City Cruises.

In Hangzhou, the key sections of the Grand Canal are comprised of Jiangnan Canal (Hangzhou Section), Shangtang River Section, Hangzhoutang Section, the Section from Zhonghe River to Longshan River, and Zhedong Grand Canal Main Course. The symbolic historical sites include Tangqi Guangji Bridge, Gongshu Gongchen Bridge, Qiaoxi Historical Zone, Fuyi Granary, Xiangji Temple, Wulin Square Wharf, Fengshan Water Gate and Xixing Guotangxing Wharf. All of these will be well preserved and opened to be the hot scenic spots along the Grand Canal.

 The Highlighted Attractions of Hangzhou

hangzhou lingyin temple huqingyutang traditional medicine museum of China hangzhou baopu taoist temple hangzhou baochu pagoda
Hangzhou Lingyin Temple Traditional Medicine Museum Baopu Taoist Temple Hangzhou Baochu Pagoda
liuhe pagoda hangzhou tea plantation xixi wetland impression west lake
Hangzhou Liuhe Pagoda Hangzhou Tea Plantation Xixi Wetland Park Impression West Lake

 The Travel Guide of Hangzhou

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Hangzhou Travel Hangzhou Tours Hangzhou Attractions Hangzhou Travel Tips

Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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