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Ancient China

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
Why was the Grand Canal built?

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.

Early Canals

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.

Modern Course of Grand Canal of China
by Ian Kiu
Later Improvements

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

For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:

Timeline of Ancient China
Geography of Ancient China
Silk Road
The Great Wall
Forbidden City
Terracotta Army
The Grand Canal
Battle of Red Cliffs
Opium Wars
Inventions of Ancient China
Glossary and Terms

Major Dynasties
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Han Dynasty
Period of Disunion
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dyanasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Daily Life in Ancient China
Numbers and Colors
Legend of Silk
Chinese Calendar
Civil Service
Chinese Art
Entertainment and Games

Kangxi Emperor
Genghis Khan
Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Emperor Qin
Emperor Taizong
Sun Tzu
Empress Wu
Zheng He
Emperors of China

Works Cited

History >> Ancient China

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