Yangtze Water Control

Water from the Yangtze River gives life to its adherents, nurturing a vast expense of southern China. However, without proper control, the water's power cannot be tamed. Blessed with two great rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the history of Chinese civilization could be said to be the history of water control.

Water control in China can be traced back as early as 5,000 years ago, when Yu the Great tamed rivers as well as floods. His magnum opus was the dredging of the floodplains which then covered China. Now, traces and relics of Yu's work can be found in both north and south China. It is Yu the Great who symbolizes the beginnings of Chinese water control.

Construction of water projects on the Yangtze River, as well as on its tributaries, first appeared during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC), when there were abundant canals and ponds for irrigation. The Dujiangyan Irrigation System, the Ling Canal and the Grand Canal are the most famous water projects built in ancient China.

Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Constructed in the 3rd century BC, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System on the Min River (a major tributary of the upper Yangtze) may be the world's oldest water project. It is still in perfect condition and serving the Chengdu people well, as it has for thousands of years. It was listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site in 2000. The committee considered it 'a major landmark in the development of water management and technology.' The designers, Li Bing, has been respected and commemorated ever since.

Ling Canal

Aqueducts built by connecting two or more rivers were constructed quite early in China. Ling Canal was completed in 214 BC, now reputed to be one of the oldest canals in the world. During his campaign to unify China, Qin Shi Huang (260 BC-210 BC) ordered his army to construct a canal connecting the Xiang and Li Rivers (two tributaries of the lower Yangtze), to ensure the battlefront enough military materiel. Ling Canal was instrumental to the success of the first King of Qin in his quest, though nowadays there are more tourist cruisers and cargo haulers than warships plying its waters!

Grand Canal of China

The Grand Canal connected the Hai River, the Yellow River, the Huai River, the Yangtze River and the Qiantang River to form a great aquatic artery from north to south. Spanning from Hangzhou to Beijing, with a total length of 1,794 kilometers (1,115 miles), the Grand Canal is renowned as the second golden watercourse of China, after the Yangtze River.

Another masterpiece of ancient Chinese workmanship, the King of Wu turned the first handful of earth for the Grand Canal during the Spring and Autumn Period, when he dug the Han Canal (Han Gou—a section of the Grand Canal in Jiangsu Province) in 486 BC. Excavation and extension continued from there. Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) ordered the Canal dredged from end to end, from Hangzhou to Beijing, a milestone in the Grand Canal's development. The Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties witnessed a new era of prosperity opened up by the Canal. The Grand Canal has enjoyed a more than 2000 years of history and is still running today.

Besides these, there are many more waterworks across China, both ancient and modern. In modern times, water control projects such as China's North-South Water Transfer Project and the Three Gorges Dam carry on the traditions and history of Chinese water control.

Comments and Questions