the Grand Canal's Application for the World Cultural Heritage
The Grand Canal And The Water Towns
2008-7-22 9:25:59ĦĦHits2028

    Older than the Great Wall of China, the world's most famous man-made waterway, the Grand Canal, is a construction marvel that has outshone its rival defensive wonder for more than two millennia;  right up to the present day.

    Whereas the Great Wall, despite its gigantic scale, failed to repel the Mongol invaders from central Asia,  the Grand Canal has functioned as a vital transporation artery for China continually  for 26 centuries.

    In the mid-15th Century records reveal a half million tons of freight a year being shipped  up and down the waterway.

    The finished 1,200-mile- long  Grand Canal originated as a 260-mile channel linking  two of China's main rivers, the Yellow  to the Huai in 600 B.C. Then, nearly ten centuries later, during the Sui Dynasty, a labor force of upwards of 6 million toiled for six years to dig by hand the waterway which for the first time would link China's north to its south; from Beijing's port of Tianjin to Hangzhou

    The southern terminus, Hangzhou and its sister city  Suzhou, one hundred miles downstream, have traditionally been two of the Grand Canal's major ports  for the transportation  of their tea and silk.  Both traditional  cities, known for their culture as well as commerce, have been described in a classic  Chinese saying  as, "Above is  Paradise,  below are Hangzhou and

    In  Suzhou, from a modern bridge looking down over the ancient waterway, I saw single cargo barges running low in the water loaded with coal, bagged rice and giant logs.  Others plowed along, connected together in a nautical train resembling a twisting, steaming dragon.  I was amazed to see one giant vessel with a woman pilot at the wheel navigating the congested, fast-moving waterway.  She saw me and adroitly kept her craft on course with one hand on the wheel as she waved to me with the other.  As her barge passed beneath me, I spotted her husband at the stern oiling the pulsating  engines.  I also saw their infant  child being attended on deck by its grandmother who completed the three-generational family crew.

    In ancient Suzhou itself, 365 mostly moon-shaped bridges are found in the Old Town's six-square-mile area.  One span in three is  more than 200 years old.

    On the outskirts of Suzhou, on other ancient branches of the Grand Canal, you venture into the water life of China Past.  Ancient water towns which date to 770 B.C., maintain their historic ways in traditional architecture featuring 
black tiled roofs, earthen white-washed walls and quaint moon-shaped bridges accommodating foot traffic over the placid, narrow canals.

    The villages' populations are mostly elderly  residing in their families' ancestral homes. Their lives  are centered on the canals where fishermen with trained cormorant birds fish the abundant waters.

    Expert  boat girls...many  grandmothers...clad in traditional black cotton trousers and indigo smocks, leisurely pole contemporary visitors in their small craft along the canals.  On the banks, tea houses and small country-style eateries provide respite from the canal rides and shopping for local handmade bamboo wares, folk pottery and embroidery crafted by village artisans.
    But there is a future vision  for the Grand Canal as well: totally reversing its flow into the Yangtse, the third largest river in the world in order to send water into China's drought-stricken  northern regions.  Planners  see it as the world's largest construction project of all time.

The World Cultural Heritage Joint Bidding Office of the Grand Canal , all rights reserved (2007-2008)
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