The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal (or Da Yun He) is the world’s oldest and longest canal. It is 1,795 km long with 24 locks and about 60 bridges. It connects the present-day cities of Beijing in the north with Hangzhou in the south. Most of the major rivers of China flow from west to east so the canal, running north to south, was important in connecting the Yangze River with the Yellow River.

The first section, joining the Yangze and Yellow Rivers was constructed during the 4th and 5th centuries BC during the Zhou Dynasty. It was extended during the Qi Dynasty and again in the Sui Dynasty when existing sections of the canal were linked together.

Building techniques were primitive and there was much suffering amongst the peasant builders. During the Sui Dynasty 6 million men were recruited and about half died which contributed to the dynasty’s downfall.

It greatly assisted the administration and defence of the country as a whole and formed the basis of a unified economy. Parts of it are still in use today, particularly the central and southern sections.