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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The Forgotten Jewel of Ancient China
23 June 2009
China Daily

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It has existed for more than 2,500 years and has been a vital vein through which China's lifeblood has flowed, but conservation experts say the ancient Grand Canal is an all but forgotten relic that some people have no interest in protecting.

China announced this month it would be putting the world's oldest and longest man-made waterway forward in 2014 as its candidate to join the Great Wall on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. A total of 35 cities are working on the "unprecedented" bid, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said.

Chinese experts said they hope the bid, if successful, would boost efforts to preserve a site many still fail to recognize as one of immense importance. Many agree, however, the move is decades overdue.

"People know all about the Great Wall but they have no idea about the Grand Canal because people often only take notice of large and imposing constructions, not low-level attractions such as a waterway," said Zhang Tinghao, former director of the Beijing-based National Cultural Relics Research Institute. "The fact the canal doesn't look any different from other waterways also makes it easier for people to take it for granted."

The failure to see the value of the Grand Canal, especially the cultural landscape it has helped define for past 2,000 years, has resulted in it being neglected, said Luo Zhewen, president of China Cultural Relics Academy and one of the country's leading experts in ancient architecture.

"When the Great Wall was listed as a national cultural relic in the 1950s, I also thought of the Grand Canal," said the 85-year-old, who at the time worked for the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

"But few would have. It was still working then, and a cultural relic was something people associated with static or 'dead' things, such as the Great Wall."

The Grand Canal was not even recognized as a national cultural relic site until 2005, he added.

As tourism has boomed over recent years, rushed conservation projects by towns and cities to turn areas of the canal into glitzy attractions have also put the waterway at risk.

Sections in the picturesque and popular cities of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, have undergone major renovations, while the Beijing section has also been transformed into a waterside park suitable for cycling. Stretches, mostly in the north, have also dried and become impassable by boat, while some areas have been reduced to industrial cesspools by persistent pollution.

"The canal is more than a tourist attraction," said Shan Jixiang, director of State Administration of Cultural Heritage, who criticized cities where officials have destroyed historic sections to garner the canal with cement plazas and manicured lawns.

"It would be a disaster to see the canal have its treasure of stories drained by such a process."

The waterway, which was started in the late Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), runs from Hangzhou to Beijing, winding through some of China's most fertile and heavily populated lands.

Stretching almost 1,800 km, it is about 16 times longer than the Suez Canal in Egypt and 33 times the size of the Panama Canal, the world's second and third largest canals.

In a nation dominated by east-west flowing rivers, the north-south Grand Canal has provided precious links between many of China's river systems, operating as a vital artery for the transporting of food and goods.

It has also played a role in some of China's most important political and cultural events.

"If the Great Wall is the backbone of the Chinese people, then the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal is the flesh and blood," said Shan.

The Great Wall has been a World Cultural Heritage site for more than two decades, but the Grand Canal failed to gain significant public attention until 2005, when elderly scholars Luo, Zheng Xiaoxie and Zhu Bingren called for it to be given the same status.

"The ultimate aim is to ensure the Grand Canal gets the conservation and protection it deserves," said Luo, 85, who also championed the Great Wall's inclusion on the UNESCO list in 1987.

His work in raising awareness of the canal began in the 1980s, but at the time a "world heritage site", as defined in the 1972 World Heritage Convention, was a static natural or unique site, leaving no room for working waterways.

The principles were only changed in 1993, when the El Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, a pilgrimage route in northwestern Spain, made it onto the list, leading to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to call for the operational guidelines for the status to be updated to include more cultural routes.

The category was finally confirmed in Feb 2005, clearing the way for the proposed inclusion of the world famous Silk Road, which is expected to win approval next year, and the Grand Canal.

"The bid (for the Grand Canal) is progressing well but it will take another five years until it is fully prepared," said Shan. "Preparing the application represents an immense challenge because we have never been confronted by such a vast cultural site encompassing so many different regions and disciplines.

"The site is simultaneously cultural and natural. It comprises sites, lines and fields that form an immense geographical corridor, and includes monuments of the ancient, early modern and modern periods.

"It also traverses many historical villages, with fine examples of traditional housing and invaluable items of intangible cultural heritage."

He added: "Such a voluminous application is, for us in China, unprecedented."

Conservation expert Zhang said he believes the Grand Canal is one of the best examples of ancient Chinese engineering, and cites the fact the canal bed climbs from 1 m below sea level in Hangzhou to 38.5 m above sea level near the city of Jining, Shandong province, before dropping to 27 m in Beijing. To achieve this, hundreds of sluice gates had to be constructed to control water levels and aid navigation, he said, explaining: "The design and construction of such sluice gates shows an engineering wisdom that is inspiring even today."

The canal also bridged the historic culture gaps between north and south China, he said, and ignorance of its value has undermined efforts to conserve it.

"Many significant historical events, beliefs, intellectual trends, important works of art and folk traditions, even the development of a city have direct and concrete links with the waterway," Zhang explained. "Beijing itself is a city borne of the canal. All the bricks used in the construction of the imperial palaces and mausoleums were transported from all over the nation via the Grand Canal."

Following calls from conservationists and the public to safeguard the Grand Canal, an organization to coordinate the efforts of government departments and provincial authorities was set up in Sept 2007.

"One of our major responsibilities is to ensure the efforts by participating cities meet with the ICOMOS guidelines," said Meng Yao, of the general office of the Grand Canal Application for World Heritage, based in Yangzhou.

The office has issued conservation rules to help towns and cities to draw up plans for the sections that fall under their jurisdiction, she said.

At the same time, a systematic survey of the canal's tangible and intangible heritage has been ongoing for two years and has yielded a long list of relics for further study and protection over the next five years.

Zhang said he is confident about the 2014 application because he has witnessed much progress in recent years.

"People are learning more about the Grand Canal and, as they do, I believe they will do more to help protect the waterway," he said. "It is too much a part of cultural and historical heritage for us to just let it slide into disrepair."

141,437 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
23 February 2010
China Daily

As the Grand Canal and its glory recede into the past, the craftsmen born and raised alongside the canal are also starting to disappear, along with their remarkable skills. Sun Li reports

For centuries, the Grand Canal of China, also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal and spanning more than 1,700 km, was the main trade artery of the country. But the canal was not just a lifeline for many regions, it was also part of the livelihoods of the many craftsmen along its banks.

However, as the economic importance of the Grand Canal has declined, the skills and knowledge of these artisans are also disappearing.

An enthusiastic amateur photographer from Jining, Shandong province, Wang Bin began to use his camera to tell the stories of these craftsmen in 2005.

"The man who originally inspired my interest was Wang Guangrong," says Wang Bin, who got to know the 78-year-old basin-maker by chance. The old man's family have worked as carpenters for three generations.

"I spent a whole day in his workshop, enjoying his exquisite craftsmanship," Wang recalls. The elderly craftsman promised Wang he would make a wooden basin for his daughter.

"However, when I went to see him another day, I couldn't find him in his workshop," Wang says. He later learnt the old man was sick. "From then on, I thought of taking pictures of these old craftspeople."

A carpenter for over six decades, Wang Guangrong used to make pot lids, coffins, casks and furniture. But as the market changed to favor the machine over the hand, the demand for Wang's handiwork decreased. Unexpectedly, it was the boom in foot spas in recent years, and the subsequent increased demand for basins, which offered the veteran carpenter renewed opportunities.

However, not every craftsman has been as lucky as Wang. Most are simply striving to continue in the face of fierce competition for what little demand for their handmade goods survives.

For Zhang Busheng and his wife Sun Zhaoying, a couple who make wooden steamers in Ruxing village, Jining, today's business cannot be compared with 5 years ago in terms of sales.

Most steamed bread shops now use aluminum steamers because of the convenience of steam-washing. Zhang's wooden steamers now make him just 1 yuan profit and require much more time to produce than the machine-made aluminum steamers.

And life is getting harder for Zhu Peizhong, nicknamed "Big Knife Zhu", so-called because he makes, repairs and sells all kinds of high-quality knives. Despite the fact that the cutlery business has become marginalized under current economic circumstances, Zhu retains his passion for making high-quality knives by hand.

"In the morning, I get up early to start forging my knives, I then quench them to adjust their hardness. The quenching part is rather difficult, because it totally depends on experience. It's impossible for rookies to know the exact time to quench a knife. After quenching, I go to the market to sell them," Zhu says.

"Making a knife by hand takes me a lot of time. I could sell 10 knives years ago, while nowadays I sell six. But I still do my job every day."

If there is any problem concerning the knife's quality such as gray or broken steel, Zhu marks the knife with chalk. "I offer a 5-year guarantee for hafts and replacement for knives with quality problems," Zhu says. "I won't sell any defective knives. This is the rule set by my ancestors, and I won't ruin it and my reputation as 'Big Knife Zhu'."

When asked about the future, Zhu replies: "I didn't teach my sons how to make or repair knives. If I quit, the skill will be gone."

With the relentless pace of social and economic development, the future of such traditional skills is increasingly under threat, not just from consumers who demand the latest and cheapest products, but also from a younger generation that want the rewards of a modern occupation and are reluctant to take on the family trade.

141,437 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Displaying the legacy of China's Grand Canal
China Daily Excerpt
Sept. 4, 2016

In ancient times, the Grand Canal served as the main artery between north and south China for grain transport and every kind of economic and cultural exchange.

Cargo ships still sail on the 39-kilometer-long Hangzhou section of the waterway, which has become a tourist attraction thanks to its scenic beauty, culture and history.

Hopping on a pleasure boat, modeled on the traditional craft that once transported grain, you start a brilliant one-hour journey at Wulinmen port.

A night cruise promises memorable views. Along the banks, traditional Chinese architecture is colorfully lit up, and the buildings' bright reflections glitter in the water. Fog slowly rises amid the greenery and the combination with lights on the ground makes for a visual wonderland.

"The canal in Hangzhou is unique because it fostered Hangzhou's integration with other Chinese cities. It has a long history, with grain-transporting and port culture," says Zhu Qunying, a manager at the Hangzhou Grand Canal Group Culture and Tourism Company.

The company has just improved the lighting on the canal at night. And next year, it will expand access to buses and ferries and offer public bike-rental services and stores, making it easy to transfer between land and water, and tour around the canal.

Illuminated onshore as you pass is a beautiful woman in traditional Chinese costume playing the guqin, or the Chinese zither, and you can clearly hear the melody from the boat's stereo set.

All the bridges you see have different relief images, with scenes showing the lifestyles of local residents in ancient times.

The boat turns and returns to Wulinmen port once it reaches the Gongchen Bridge. The structure, which is about 400 years old, is believed to be the largest arch stone bridge among the city's ancient bridges.

Along the canal, there are also four museums and the Workmanship Demonstration Pavilion, which were originally old factory buildings and storehouses.

The pavilion showcases more than 20 kinds of craftsmanship, such as traditional embroidery, egg-carving and leather-tooling. Experts offer training sessions for adults and children.

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141,437 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Historical Hangzhou: explore one of China’s ancient capitals
Sept 27, 2019
The Guardian

Home to imperial ruins, temples and three Unesco heritage sites – Hangzhou is an ideal place to learn about Chinese history and culture first-hand

History and legend seem to mingle through the breeze in the ancient, waterfront city of Hangzhou. Causeways named for medieval poets wind across its gleaming West Lake to low green hills, as singers and dancers retell the story of the Butterfly Lovers (Hangzhou’s answer to Romeo and Juliet), amid lavish special effects.

Bullet trains race to and from this modern city – home to tech pioneers including Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba – at speeds up to 350 km/h (217 mph). Yet beyond the pace of 21st-century life, ancient stories echo down the years.

And, in a way, that’s no surprise. Perhaps the first distinctively Chinese culture flourished near Hangzhou more than 5,000 years ago. The Liangzhu people built an imperial city, complete with elaborate flood control systems, produced silk, lacquerware, fine ceramics and jade jewellery. Added to the Unesco world heritage list in July this year, the ruined city recently opened to visitors, with its treasures preserved in a landmark museum.

While China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, left his mark on the area two centuries before Christ, Hangzhou began to rise to prominence with the vast Lingyin Temple. According to legend, an Indian monk, Master Huili, fell in love with the serene landscapes around West Lake and founded a Buddhist temple in the hills in AD326. Today, it’s home to many separate structures as well as hundreds of stone carvings, some dating back more than 1,000 years.

The arrival of the Grand Canal reshaped the young city further, connecting the port to hubs across the Yangtze delta. While the barges that ply the canal today are heavy with coal and cement – rather than silk and tea – the shophouses of waterfront Xiaohe Street and the arches of 380-year-old Gongchen Bridge preserve its magic, while the Grand Canal Museum retells the story of its past glory.

Hangzhou’s beauty has always made it a magnet for artists and poets. The eighth-century scholar and administrator Bai Juyi – whose writing would inspire authors as far afield as Japan – hymned West Lake while serving in Hangzhou as governor. A couple of centuries later, Su Shi – a poet, painter, calligrapher, writer, philosopher, and politician in charge of the affairs of Hangzhou – presided over the construction of a north-south embankment in order to dredge the West Lake. Later, people named it “Su Causeway”. Today, West Lake is Unesco-listed for its serene beauty and ancient structures.

When retreating Song emperors made Hangzhou their capital in the 12th century, the city reached the peak of its cultural clout. For many Chinese, this was a golden age, when painting, calligraphy and literature blossomed. Even today, visitors still leave offerings at the West Lake mausoleum of Song dynasty general Yue Fei.

By the time Marco Polo visited in the 13th century, Hangzhou was likely the biggest city on earth, home to about a million citizens – more than 1o times as many as London. The wide streets, silk-clad elite, stately mansions, enormous markets, and glistening pleasure boats led him to describe Hangzhou as, “the finest and most splendid city in the world”.

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141,437 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Enormous water project benefits over 120m people
China DailyExcerpt
13 December 2019

More than 120 million people in northern China have benefited from the world's largest water diversion project, which transfers water from the Yangtze River in the south to the drought-prone north, authorities said on Thursday.

Since coming into operation, the middle and eastern canals of the project have transferred nearly 30 billion cubic meters of water to over 40 cities and 260 counties in northern China, Vice-Minister of Water Resources Jiang Xuguang said at a news conference organized by the State Council Information Office.

The water transferred is enough to fill West Lake — a well-known lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province — about 2,140 times.

The project, first proposed by late Chinese leader Mao Zedong over 70 years ago, is designed to optimize the allocation of water resources and quench the thirsty north through eastern, middle and western canals from the Yangtze River, the country's longest river.

The first phase of the eastern route was put into operation in November 2013. The middle route, which started supplying water in December 2014, has grabbed the most attention due to its role of bringing water to the Chinese capital.

According to the ministry, over 73 percent of Beijing's tap water supply comes from the project, benefiting over 12 million residents, nearly half of the city's total population. In nearby Tianjin, the project supplies all the water used in 14 districts.

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