The Grand Canal, also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, is the longest canal or artificial river in the world (1,400 miles long). Starting at 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. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century BC, although the various sections were finally combined during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE).
The total length of the Grand Canal is 1,776 km (1,104 mi). Its greatest height is reached in the mountains of Shandong, 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 Weiyo. The canal's size and grandeur won it the admiration of many throughout history, including the Japanese monk Ennin (794-864), the Persian historian Rashid al-Din (1247¨C1318), the Korean official Choe Bu (1454-1504) and the Italian missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610).
Historically, periodic flooding of the adjacent Yellow River threatened the safety and functioning of the canal. During wartime the high dikes of the Yellow River were sometimes deliberately broken in order to flood advancing enemy troops. This caused disaster and prolonged economic hardships. Despite temporary periods of desolation and disuse, the Grand Canal furthered an indigenous and growing economic market in China's urban centers through all the ages since the Sui period. It allows faster trading and improved China's economy.
Beijing Hangzhou Grand Canal Museum
Although it's not quite the tourist hotspot that West Lake has become, the Grand Canal is perhaps even more well-known throughout the world. At 1,794 kilometers in length, this ancient wonder is the longest artificial waterway in the world. It begins in Beijing and traverses four provinces before ending right here in Hangzhou. The oldest parts of the canal were constructed in the 5th century BC, with many small sections being dug for military or economic purposes. All the parts were finally joined together during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD). Yet, if you don't venture to the north of Hangzhou, you might not even be aware of this important location. The canal has played a significant role in Hangzhou's economic and cultural development, and as the museum claims is "the root and soul of Hangzhou."
In order to explore the past and present of the canal, visit the Grand Canal Museum in Canal Culture Square. This museum features exhibits on the various periods of the canal's development, items from daily life along the canal, notable people and features, and Hangzhou's recent renovation efforts. Hangzhou has done more to restore their section of the canal than any other city. The layout of the museum is relatively attractive, although cheesy dioramas can be found throughout. Additionally, the first and last sections have some decent English explanations, but a few more English captions would greatly increase a visitor's interest in their collection. Statues of people, models, and piles of old papers don't exactly explain themselves.
The museum may be a little out of the way, but you can make it part of a Grand Canal excursion. From Wulinmen Dock you can take the water bus there to get a look at the present day canal. Be sure to also visit the 370-year-old Gongchen Bridge, which is just a short walk through the square.
Location of the Grand Canal Museum
Address: 1 Canal Culture Square
Opeing Time: 9:00 - 17:00 (closed on Monday)