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Grand Canal

China History Map - Grand CanalThe Grand Canal is composed of the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal, Sui-Tang Canal and Zhedong Canal, and is over two thousand years old. It starts in Beijing and passes through Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Zhejiang, Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu. It is 21 times longer than the Panama Canal, and surpasses the Suze Canal by 10 times, with 2000 years earlier than these two canals.

The over 1100 kilometer section of the canal to the south of Shandong's Jining is still in use today. Today its 100,000 vessels carry 260 million tons of freight, mainly coal for China's power stations and also construction materials for growing cities like Shanghai, tarmac for motorways, and fuel. The Canal is to be part of the South-to-North Water Transfer Project to carry water from the Yangtze to drought-ridden Beijing.

As China's terrain slopes eastward-from the highlands and mountains in the west to the hinterlands on the shore of the Pacific,all the major rivers in China run west to east and empty into the Pacific. The Grand Canal was the sole waterway for south-north transportation and communication. The canal lies mainly in the great alluvial deltas of the chinese rivers so the height differential along the length is not great. The peak of the Classical canal in the Shandong province is only abouy 40 metres above sea level.

Today a national inland water transport network is gradually being formed, with the Yangtze River, the Pearl River, the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, the Huaihe River, the Heilongjiang River and the Song-Liao Waters as the main arteries of the network. The famous Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal has been connected to Qiantang River. Hangzhou is located at the southern wing of the Yangtze River Delta, the west end of Hangzhou Bay, the lower reaches of Qiantang River and the southern end of the Grand Canal.

China has 123,000 navigable waterways in the inland, ranking the first in the world. The Yangtze River and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal have the largest transport volume in the world. There have been two waves of waterway construction in China since 1949. The first wave was in the 1950s, when the construction of Chuanjiang Waterway and the expansion of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand canal were completed. The second wave was in the 1980s. A number of arterial channels were constructed then.

The Grand Canal of China is the longest waterway in existence and one of the most ancient. Its length is approximately 1100 miles, with the northern terminus at Peking and the southern at Hangchow. In its course it crosses three important rivers, the Yellow, the Hwai, and the Yangtze. While Europe was settling down to the long lethargy of the Dark Ages, centuries before America was discovered, the Chinese began the construction of a waterway for internal communication which became and for many hundreds of years remained one of the engineering marvels of the world.

While Europe was settling down to the long lethargy of the Dark Ages, centuries before America was discovered, the Chinese began the construction of a waterway for internal communication which became and for many hundreds of years remained one of the engineering marvels of the world. Even to-day, perfected as engineering art has become, the Grand Canal of China excites admiration. No other artificial waterway of a period prior to the 20th century, was comparable with it. As an evidence of the canal-building skill of mankind fifteen hundred years ago, it is of unique present-day interest.

Over twice the length of the Erie canal, the Grand Canal of China is by far the longest artificial waterway in the world. With its connecting rivers it links together parts of the empire which are separated by more than one thousand miles. It passes through one of the most thickly populated sections on the globe; and the variety of craft which navigate its waters is the most wonderful on earth.

During the Yuan Dynasty, the docks at Jishuitan in Beijing, then called the Greater Capital, were crowded by boats loaded with grain from the south. At it's height as many as 18,000 barges carried 600,000 tons of grain per year. The original purpose of the canal was to transport the plentiful grains of the affluent south to the poorer north, but over the course of the years, the canal became a major trade conduit as commodities such as tea, silk, porcelain, lacquerware, and salt were all shipped up north.

In the Canal's prime, large Chinese junks, with wide-spreading sails, alternated with little canoes sculled by a man standing in the stern; barges, laden with every kind of merchandise, dragged their tedious journey past small slipper-shaped craft used as despatch boats, which could go everywhere, so little water did they draw ; there were boats with paddle-wheels at the side turned by coolies who worked within a half-dozen or so on each vessel; boats owned by beggars, who sailed through the canal from one town to another, anchoring in the channel while they went ashore to ply their mendicant trade; and boats filled with lepers being transported to some colony of their kind.

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