Shipping canals have been in the news rather more than usual this year, when the super-sized freight vessel the Ever Given became jammed in the Suez Canal in March, causing lengthy tailbacks. The Suez Canal which runs through Egypt is one of the most well-known shipping routes in the world, but it is not the largest man-made waterway.
The Grand Canal of China, also known as the Capital-Hangzhou Canal, is the longest canal in the world. Its official length is 1,776km, or 1,104 miles, although this has varied over the course of several centuries. It is made up of a series of waterways which run along the east and north of the country, starting in the capital city of Beijing.
Some parts of the canal which lie between the Yangtze and the city of Huaiyin in Jiangsu province can be traced back to the 4th century BC. According to Dr Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Professor of Geography at Hofstra University in New York, the canal was at its peak during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), when its length was about 2,500km.
The Grand Canal was originally constructed to transport agricultural produce from fertile farming areas in the Yangtze and Huai valleys, to the large cities in the north of the country. At the height of its use, the canal carried about 400,000 tonnes of grain a day.
It remained in use for several centuries, but fell into disrepair after a series of devastating floods during the 19th century. Major restoration began in 1958 to the entire system, and the canal was widened, straightened, and dredged. Locks were modernised, and a new 65km section was added.
Today, the Grand Canal is still in operation as a major shipping route within China, transporting millions of tonnes of construction materials each year. However the section from Jining to Beijing cannot currently be used, due to silt build up and lack of water resources in the area.
Restoration work is planned, and the canal remains a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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