The Oldest, Longest, and Greatest Canal in the World is in China

I learned about the Suez and Panama canals in grade school. In the 19th century, the French built a hundred mile long canal across the Isthmus of Suez. When it opened, the Suez Canal was only 25 feet deep, 72 feet wide at the bottom and 200 to 300 feet wide at the surface.

The Panama Canal was started in 1881 by the French but that attempt was a failure. The Americans ended up finishing the Panama Canal between 1904 – 1914, and it was 51 miles long.

Until my first trip to China in 1999, I had never heard of China’s Grand Canal, which is the oldest and longest man-made canal in the world at more than a thousand miles from Beijing to Hangzhou south of Shanghai.

The construction of China’s Grand Canal was started several hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ and was completed centuries later, and it’s still in use today. To finish it, the Pound lock was invented in the 10th century during the Song Dynasty. There are 24 locks and about 60 bridges.

The Pound lock was pioneered by Qiao Weiyo, a government official and engineer, in 984 AD that replaced earlier double slipways that had caused trouble and are mentioned by the Chinese polymath Shen Kuo (1031–1095 AD) in his book Dream Pool Essays (published in 1088 AD), and fully described in the Chinese historical text Song Shi (compiled in 1345 AD).

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the West built the Suez and Panama Canals that combined were 151 miles long. Both the Suez and Panama canals use the same Pound lock concept that was invented in China about one thousand years earlier.

Science reports, “Historically, the Grand Canal was built in segments by many separated kingdoms starting some 25 centuries ago. Fuchai, the king of Wu, dug the first section named Hangou, which connected the Huai and the Yangtze rivers.”

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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