WHS: The Grand Canal, China

So last time we went over The Great Wall — let’s continue to a likewise superlatively named and massively scaled, but not quite so epic, World Heritage Site with traces in the Beijing suburbs:

The Grand Canal

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 5th century BC onwards, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Empire for the first time in the 7th century AD (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 transport 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. 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…

Well, yes, an outstanding cultural achievement and all, but canals are kinda … low … on the epic visual scale. There’s 31 inscribed properties making up this site scattered across those eight provinces —

The Grand Canal

and we figured well long as we’re in Beijing and have the subway, let’s head out line 6 to Tongzhou Canal Park:

Tongzhou Canal Park is the closest place for visitors to enjoy the Grand Canal from Beijing. In the park, you can not only enjoy the beautiful scenery and the amazing canal, but also row a boat to touch the canal and listen to the old legends about it. Besides, the Strawberry Music Festival and Ice and Snow Festival make the park more entertaining…

Tongzhou, an important gathering hub by the canal, was once a very busy and prosperous town, with ships coming and going, and granaries, restaurants and hotels scattered here and there. As time passed, the busy town lost its importance. Fortunately, the Grand Canal survives, and the section in Tongzhou has been renovated, creating the Tongzhou Canal Park…

If that gives you the impression that they’re reaching a bit to make the park sound worth a visit, yes well that impression would not be utterly mistaken. That picture up there with the sunset, that’s about it really.

So, well, if you’ve seen everything else in Beijing and have some time to kill, sure hop line 6 out to Beiyunhe Station and walk across the bridge. Other than that, feel free to leave the Beijing section to us inveterate site-tickers.

Now, reading around we gather that although most of the properties are likewise unspectacular stretches of river and granaries and the like, some of the southern canal towns like Suzhou and Yangzhou are rather striking and display the culture that grew up centering on the canal —

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p dir=”ltr”>— so definitely consider those if you’re planning visits to the culturally preserved sections of China!

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Alex Curylo

Alex

I go places.

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