Canal Culture

Canals are artificially cut navigable waterways. Prior to Tang Dynasty, it was called Gou(ditch), Qu(channel), Cao Qu (water transport channel), Cao He (water transport river), Yun Qu (transport ditch). The name Yun He (canal) was appeared in Song Dynasty and was widely used in Yuan and Ming Dynasty. In ancient China, people developed water transport to meet the shortfall of natural geographic condition. The record of canal excavation was dated back to Spring and Autumn Period or earlier. The development of canal reached its peak in Sui Dynasty. Before foundation of Sui Dynasty, China has successively excavated Baigou Ditch, Caoqu Channel, Yangqu Channel, Honggou Ditch, Hangou Ditch, Jiangnan Canal, and East Zhejiang Canal. Many of these canals had been silted up or suspended due to transition of natural environment. Some needed to be dredged but were still navigable, but were too separated from each other to form large-scale water transport nationwide.

The establishment of Sui Dynasty declared the end of long-lasting split situation. In 605 AD , Emperor Yang Guang, the second emperor of Sui Dynasty, ordered excavation of Grand Canal on April 14th (21st day of third month in the first year of Daye Period in Sui Dynasty) to meet the political, economic and military needs of unified nation. “The emperor ordered junior assistant officer of ministry to mobilize about one million of citizens in Henan and Huaibei to dredge Tongji Ditch”. Tongji Ditch started from Luoyang. The project first drained Gu River (also called Jian River) and Luo River on the west to the Yellow River, then conduct Yellow River water from northeast of Jishui Town in Jiqing (today Xingyang County) to Yangzhou (today’s Kaifeng City) in the east, and extended southeastward at Sangqiu by Bian River, cut-in to Ji River, then passed through North Anhui and entered Hui River in Huiyin. The phase i project connected Luo River, Yellow River with Hui River.

In the same Year, emperor Yang conscribed over 100,000 civilians in Weinan to cut Xinggou Ditch.

In February 608 AD, the emperor ordered to mobilize over million soldiers in Hebei Province to excavate Yongji Ditch, with a purpose to divert Qin River to Yellow river in the south and to Shen County in the north”.

In the first month of 611 AD, emperor Yang of Sui ordered to cut through 800-li Jiangnan River from Jingkou to Yuhang”. After completion of the section, the 4000-li Grand Canal was completely cut through and became the main transport artery between south and north China.

Thus, the Grand Canal was cut through in Sui Dynasty and was the earliest and longest canal in the world.


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