A core Course of General Education An outline of the Traditional Chinese Culture 中国传统文化概览 Shandong University Contents

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The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal begins in the north at Beijing and ends at Hangzhou, traversing on its way south the four provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. This has earned it the name of the Jing-Hang Canal. With a total length of more than one thousand kilometers, the canal links up the five large rivers of Haihe, the Yellow River, Huaihe, the Yangtze River and Qiantangjiang. In ancient times, it served as the main artery of communication between north and south.

Far back in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods, King Fuchai of Wu ordered the digging of a canal between the Yangtze and the Huaihe River, called at that time Hangou, for the purpose of transporting troops and provisions northwards to attack the State of Qi. In the year 605, Emperor Yangdi of the Sui Dynasty succeeded to the throne. In pursuit of extravagant personal pleasures, he gave orders to have another capital established at Luoyang which he called “the Eastern Capital”. For the purpose of facilitating the transportation of goods and materials from the south to the north so that rare and precious fauna and flora could be collected from all parts of the country for his palace at Luoyang, and also in order to tighten his control over the country and to launch wars of expansion against other countries, Emperor Yangdi of Sui levied a million laborers to build a great canal with Luoyang as its center. It took almost six years to complete the project. By the end of 610 when it was done, this gigantic undertaking had involved more than 150 000 000 man-days of work.

The Canal built in the reign of Emperor Yangdi of Sui, however, played an important part in improving communication between north and south, promoting economic and cultural exchange and strengthening the unification of the country. Later, during the Yuan Dynasty, the Grand Canal was extended further, resulting in the full-size Beijing to Hangzhou canal as it is today.

The digging and connecting of the Grand Canal gave new significance to the natural, ecological and productive environment, largely promoting the economic development of the canal region. After the Sui and the Tang dynasties, completion of the canal directly resulted in widespread exchange of agricultural technology between the north and the south, allowing the transplantation of various species from both sides. In the late Ming Dynasty, some workshops and charters with preliminary capitalism appeared in developed commodity cities like Suzhou and Hangzhou. Some other towns by the canal that had benefited from the commodity economy, ranging from Tianjin, Cangzhou, Dezhou, Linqing, Liaocheng, Jining, Xuzhou, Huaian, Yangzhou, Zhenjiang, Changzhou, Wuxi, Jiaxing, Shaoxing to Ningbo, formed a bunch of glittering pearls of canal commerce. Chang’an and Luoyang in the Sui and the Tang dynasties, Kaifeng in the Northern Song Dynasty, Hangzhou in the Southern Song Dynasty, Beijing in the Yuan, the Ming and the Qing dynasties are good examples as the region’s and even the national political, economic and cultural center.

The Grand Canal, like the Great Wall, is an extremely stupendous project in the history of Chinese civilization.


1. What ancient capital city do you like most?

2. Why is the Grand Canal an extremely stupendous project in the history of Chinese civilization?

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