China’s Grand Canal more than 2,500 years later and still in use

March 24, 2015

Encyclopedia Britannica says, “This ancient waterway was first constructed as early as the 4th century BC, was rebuilt in 607 AD, and has been used ever since.”

The Great Wall of China and the Grand Canal are examples of Confucianism and the Chinese work ethic. To understand the significance, it helps to compare it to the Suez and Panama Canals.

In the 19th century, the French built a canal 100 miles 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. About 20,000 ships use the canal each year. –

The Panama Canal was started in 1881 by the French but ended a failure. The Americans finished the canal between 1904 – 1914, and it was 51 miles long. Today, it handles over 12,000 ships a year. – The Panama Canal

When I was in grade school, we learned about the Panama Canal in glowing terms. I’m sure the French and British brag about the Suez Canal in their textbooks too.

Until my first trip to China in 1999, I had never heard of the 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 started about five hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ and was completed centuries later. The canal is 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. – Wikipedia

The canal is one example that China’s authoritarian, Confucian, collective culture is more than capable of innovation. For instance, there is the Pound lock pioneered by Qiao Weiyo,  a government official and engineer in 984 AD, which 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 18th century the West built the Suez and Panama Canals—that combined were 151 miles long. China started building the Grand Canal centuries before Christ, and when finished, it was more than a thousand miles long.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010” Awards


Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

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