China's Grand Canal: A World Heritage Site

By | July 11, 2019

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The Grand Canal. Source: (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

The world’s oldest and longest man-made waterway is China’s Grand Canal. Not as well known as the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canal was just as an important megaproject with arguably a greater impact on Chinese civilization. In its 1,400 year history, the Canal has provided an important lifeline between northern and southern China thus unifying one of the world’s great civilizations. 

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Emperor Yang of the Sui. Source: (Wikimedia)

Uniting China

China has two great river systems. The Yellow River in the North and the Yangtze River in the South. While commerce and trade were simplified by the rivers on an east to west basis, travel south to north and vise-versa was difficult. Starting during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.), Fuchai the King of Wu wanted to build a waterway to transport troops north for war. Other canals followed, linking lakes and rivers. However, the vision of uniting the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers is credited to the Emperors Wen (541-604 A.D.) and Yang (569-618 A.D.), the only two emperors of the short-lived Sui Dynasty.

The Sui Dynasty was founded after the Northern and Southern Dynasties Period (386-589 A.D) which was marked by civil war and division between the north and south of China. Emperor Wen of Sui united the entirety of China in 589 A.D. Unity must have been on his mind which is something a Grand Canal could do. Wen ordered the start of the project, but his son, the Emperor Yang saw to its completion. Work began in 605 A.D