Grand Canal

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The Grand Canal is a major manmade waterway, completed originally during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and maintained since then, linking Beijing in the relatively dry north of China with Hangzhou in the wetter south. It was historically one of the most major boulevards of domestic trade within China.


When completed under Emperor Yang of Sui (r. 604-617), the Canal linked not only Beijing, but also Chang'an, Luoyang, and Kaifeng with Hangzhou and Yangzhou in the south.[1]

During the Ming Dynasty, among its many other commercial and transportational functions, the Canal was used to transport tax revenues, in the form of grain, to Beijing. This was performed by specially-designated army corps, but as with much in the Ming military, each corps was operated independently, and with very little centralized administrative agencies with which to interact. Roughly 120,000 men manned nearly 12,000 boats on the canal for this endeavor; their commanders were held individually responsible for the grain on their individual boat, and support services along the canal were minimal.[2] The Canal was also used for rather official transportation on occasion, for example, comprising roughly half of the route of Ryukyuan tribute missions to China, as they made their way from Fuzhou to Beijing and back.[3]

In the Qing Dynasty, the boatmen and stevedores of the Grand Canal contributed to the violence and lawlessness of the north.[4]


  1. Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 195.
  2. Ray Huang, 1587: A Year of No Significance, Yale University Press (1981), 161.
  3. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 38.
  4. Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 76-77.