The Grand Canal
History >> Ancient China
The Grand Canal is a man-made waterway that runs north and south in eastern China. It is the longest man-made waterway in the world.
How long is it?
The canal stretches over 1,100 miles from the city of Beijing to the city of Hangzhou. It is sometimes called the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal. Besides connecting these two major cities, the canal also connects the two major rivers of China: the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
A Grand Canal Lock by William Alexander
The canal was built in order to easily ship grain from the rich farmland in southern China to the capital city in Beijing. This also helped the emperors to feed the soldiers guarding the northern borders.
The Ancient Chinese built early canals to help with transportation and commerce. One early section was the Han Gou Canal built by Kin Fuchai of Wu around 480 BC. This canal stretched from the Yangtze River to the Huai River.
Another ancient canal was the Hong Gou Canal which went from the Yellow River to the Bian River. These ancient canals became the basis for the Grand Canal over 1000 years later.
Building the Grand Canal
It was during the Sui Dynasty that the Grand Canal was built. Emperor Yang of the Sui wanted a quicker and more efficient way of transporting grain to his capital city at Beijing. He also needed to supply his army that guarded northern China from the Mongols. He decided to connect the existing canals and expand them to go all the way from Beijing to Hangzhou.
Building the canal was a huge project. It took over six years of hard work by millions of laborers. Emperor Yang was a tyrant. He forced millions of farmers to work on the canal. Many of them died during the construction. However, when the canal was finally completed in 609 AD, China had a new waterway that would enrich the country for hundreds of years to come.
The Ming Dynasty rebuilt much of the canal in the early 1400s. They made the canal deeper, built new canal locks, and constructed reservoirs to regulate the water in the canal. The main purpose of the canal continued to be the transport of grain. This continued throughout the Ming Dynasty and most of the history of Ancient China.
Interesting Facts about the Grand Canal
- Historians estimate that the oldest section of the canal was built around the 6th century BC.
- Emperors would sometimes travel along the Grand Canal to inspect the locks.
- It is estimated that it took over 45,000 full-time laborers to maintain the canal during the Ming Dynasty.
- The canal was also used as a courier route for carrying important government messages.
- In the 1400s, the Chinese government operated over 11,000 grain barges on the canal to transport food to the north.
- The Grand Canal also proved to be an excellent source of taxes for the Chinese government.
- Portions of the canal fell into disrepair after the Yellow River flooded in 1855.
- The pound lock was invented during the Song Dynasty in 984 AD to help raise and lower the water level of the canal.
For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:
History >> Ancient China