GRAND CANAL CHINA
486 BC: BUILDING OF THE FIRST PART OF THE GRAND CANAL OF CHINA.
In the late Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BCE), Fuchai, King of the State of Wu (whose capital was in present-day Suzhou), ventured north to attack the State of Qi. He ordered the canal's construction for trading purposes and to ship ample supplies north in case his forces should engage the northern states of Song and Lu. This canal became the Han Gou. Work began in 486 BCE, from south of Yangzhou to north of Huai'an in Jiangsu. Within three years, Han Gou connected the Yangtze with the Huai River, utilizing existing waterways, lakes, and marshes.
The Han Gou is the second oldest section of the later Grand Canal since the Hong Gou. It linked the Yellow River near Kaifeng to the Si and Bian rivers and became the model for the shape of the Grand Canal in the north. The exact date of the Hong Gou's construction is uncertain; it is first mentioned by the diplomat Su Qin in 330 BCE when discussing state boundaries. However, the historian Sima Qian (145–90 BCE) knew of no historical date for it, placing his discussion of it just after the legendary works of Yu the Great; modern scholars now consider it to belong to the 6th century BCE.
The Grand Canal, known to the Chinese as the Jing–Hang Grand Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the longest canal or artificial river in the world. Starting in Beijing, it passes through Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang to the city of Hangzhou, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River during the Sui dynasty (581–618 AD).
Dynasties in 1271–1633 significantly restored and rebuilt the canal and altered its route to supply its capital. As a result, the Grand Canal played a significant role in reunifying north and south China. In addition, conscripted labourers built the canal and connected the Yellow River in the north with the Yangtze River in the south, making it much easier to transport grain from the south to the political and military power centres in northern China.
Image by Groverlynn, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The total length of the Grand Canal is 1,776 km (1,104 mi). Its most significant height is in the Shandong mountains, at a summit of 42 m (138 ft). Ships in Chinese canals did not have trouble reaching higher elevations after the pound lock was invented in the 10th century, during the Song dynasty (960–1279), by the government official and engineer Qiao Weiyue. As a result, the canal has been admired by many throughout history.
Image by Ian Kiu, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Historically, periodic flooding of the Yellow River threatened the safety and functioning of the canal. During wartime, the high dikes of the Yellow River were sometimes deliberately broken to flood and thus sweep away advancing enemy troops. Flooding caused the disaster and prolonged economic hardships for residents. Despite temporary periods of desolation and disuse, the Grand Canal furthered an indigenous and growing financial market in China's urban centres from the Sui period onwards. It has allowed faster trading and has thus improved China's economy. The portion south of the Yellow River remains heavily used by barges carrying bulk materials and containers.
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