China Guide

The Grand Canal – Guide to China’s Famous Grand Canal

The Grand Canal

The water equivalent of the Great Wall of China is The Grand Canal. It has maintained its place as the world’s largest man made river at an estimated length of 1,776 km.

It was originally built for the purpose of joining the Yangzi River to the Yellow River while creating a link from the main cities of Beijing and Shanghai for trading purposes. Building started in 486BC in sections that would continue for hundreds of years. Most of the construction was done during the Sui rule under the emperor Yang Di, a particularly ruthless ruler who put 5.5million people to work on the canal over 6years with strict overseers. It is thought that many of these workers, mostly peasants, died while constructing the link with their primitive building skills.

After years of degradation, the Grand Canal had an almost complete makeover during the Ming Dynasty in the early 1400s. Once again, the canal was used to ship supplies between the cities.

Today the canal is mainly used for tourist activities with charted boats and overnight trips. Most locals favour other forms of transportation such as rail and road however some still use the canal to live on their boats.

The canal is divided into seven sections between Beijing and Shanghai. The first stretch is between Beijing and Tong County, from Tong to Tianjin, Tianjin to Shandong, then to Taierzhuang, Jiangsu, Yangzhou and then finally to Hangzhou.

It is believed that the Grand Canal will increase in importance in the future economy with the plan on increasing shipping capacity by a hefty 40% by 2012. This will allow mass transportation of goods from one city to another.

But for now, the river is used largely to entertain tourists and is a great place to get panoramic views of the surrounding scenery. Each city along the canal offers its own tours and cruises. The Grand Canal offers over 40 sights including temples, bridges and museums along its banks. The most popular stretches of canal are found at Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Hangzhou.