Grand Canal


The Grand Canal is the longest and oldest artifical waterway system in the world.

The canal comprises 10 main sections, containing 31 groups of inscribed buildings and passing through 8 provinces. It runs along a north-south axis originating in Beijing and ending at the sea port of Ningbo. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century BC, although the various sections were finally combined during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD).

It is considered the world's largest civil engineering project prior to the Industrial Revolution. The Chinese government used it for the unified administration of its territory and the transport of raw materials, rice to feed the people and troops.


Community Reviews

Kyle Magnuson - June 2015

There are a couple of reasons to visit the Old Beijing City Section of the Tonghui Canal or (Shichahai). The area is quite scenic and is rich with history, though the Yinding Bridge area has become too commercialized (even in 2007) for my taste. Too many bars! The surrounding Hutongs alongside the Bell & Drum Towers (walking distance) are worthy of a couple hours exploration. This old section of Beijing is partly included in the Central Axis nomination and with the inscription of the Grand Canal, the rear lakes make this historic area of Beijing rewarding for any traveler.

I vividly remember my time exploring the Hutongs, taking pictures in and around Yinding Bridge and Houhai Lake. Furthermore, I've tried (middling success) to retrace my journey in around Qinhai Lake, as well as the Former Yu Canal, which I believe the picture above captures.

The Shichahai Lakes + the Hutongs + historic Bell & Drum Towers make this corner of Old Beijing worthwhile and my personal favorite area of Beijing to explore. While just one small part of the Grand Canal WHS, Schichahai was the northernmost terminus and was hugely important (particularly in the Ming Dynasty).

Solivagant - June 2014

China is a “different country” every few years – even back in 1989 it was already very different from my previous visit in 1978 but some aspects had not yet changed – in particular the road system was still very poor. We had seen the hints of things to come in the form of motorway construction but, for anyone wanting to get from Suzhou to Hangzhou the 12 hour overnight boat journey along the Grand Canal was still a reasonable way to go. Today (2014) the motorway journey takes around 2 hours to cover the c 170kms and only tourists would want to take the canal route – which does indeed still seem to be available!

We had already seen the teeming life of the canal during our cycle tours around Suzhou and it was great to get in amongst it all on the boat. Our boat was packed with passengers and we had to grab a couple of bunks from the hundreds on a lower deck. The overnight schedule meant that a lot of the trip was in the dark but I remember well the evening and morning views. My attached photo, scanned from a diapositive and taken as we left Suzhou, captures well the almost continuous “traffic jam” of cargo boats, often in the form of great “snakes” of barges loaded to the gunwales with bricks, gravel, coal etc and sacks of unknown contents! It appears that China’s investment in road and rail across the intervening years has in no way reduced the use of the canal as an important means of transporting bulk goods. If you are in the area and have an overnight to “spare” it could still be an interesting journey as an alternative to yet another motorway trip!

Frederik Dawson - June 2014

Nowhere in China can show the importance of influence in socio-economics and culture of the ancient engineering marvel of the Grand Canal than the prosperous Jiangnan Region. During my Jiangnan visit in 2011, I crisscrossed the Grand Canal and its branches many times; I saw many beautiful water towns such as Wuzhen and Zhouzhuang, however for the best part of the Grand Canal itself was in Suzhou and Yangzhou areas, the two cities that embraced the canal and became trading hub as well as cultural center. While the highlight of Suzhou is the famous classical gardens, the city old town of Pingjiang District is equally interesting with beautiful Jiangnan vernacular houses, the style that quite similar with the Huizhou style of World Heritage Site of Xidi and Hongcun villages, small canals, stone ached bridges, and rows of weeping willow tree, a very classic image of charming Chinese water towns. Pingjiang is also the last vestiges of old Suzhou that still perfectly preserves its old area with few modern revival old styled buildings, so to be listed as World Heritage Site, for me is the good act and final completion to preserve Suzhou as one of the most beautiful city in China. Pan Men Gate is another nominated scenic area in southwest corner of old Suzhou, the main attraction here is the fine old city gate and beautiful Ruiguang Pagoda in the nice landscape garden. However to be honest there was nothing much to see and I spent the majority of my time looking passing boats on the canal and old Chinese men playing mahjong in the park.

Yangzhou is quite similar to Hangzhou at the quick glance. The main attraction is the beautiful Slender West Lake; actually it is not a lake but a wider canal area. Along the lake reminded me to beautiful Hangzhou's West Lake with beautiful lakeside pavilions, arched bridges, thousands of weeping willow trees, Tibetan stupa and all elements of perfect Chinese gardens landscape. The biggest contrast between West Lake and Slender West Lake is the lake shape, because of narrower channel; it is easier to appreciate all structures along the lake in both sides in the one ride. Also because of smaller water area, bridges in Slender West Lake are easier to have more elaborated design than those bridges in Hangzhou. Anyway apart from Slender West Lake area, Yangzhou is unable to preserve large area of old styled architectures like Suzhou can. Along the Erdao River, which was one the main city waterway, is now full with modern but nice housings. I also impressed with Yangzhou's culinary heritage, Huaiyang Cuisine, one of the four celebrated cooking styles of China, the other are Cantonese, Sichuan and Shandong. The Grand Canal plays important role on Huaiyang Cuisine development as the place of mix and match of northern and southern cooking style. I have to admit that eating in Yangzhou was one of the best meals I had in China (my favorite Chinese cooking style is Cantonese in Hong Kong and Guangdong).

Although the outstanding value of the Grand Canal is unquestionable, I am a bit skeptical of site selection by Chinese authorities. It seemed to me that the Chinese compromised Suzhou and Yangzhou's political rivalry quest to be World Heritage Site by combining both Yangzhou and Suzhou extension under the single umbrella of Grand Canal. Strangely that while decided to combine Yangzhou and Suzhou; the Chinese explicitly excluded other well known canal towns along many Grand Canal secondary branch and shortcut which currently under the tentative site called Ancient Venetian Township in the south of Yangtze River especially for the case of Wuzhen and Nanxun which are located on important shortcut canal bypassing Jiaxing to Hangzhou. I presumed that if the Chinese let both Yangzhou and Suzhou go on, both nominations will be each other problem on comparative study, and if they decided to include Wuzhen and Nanxun in the nomination, it may cause future obstacle to other sites like Lizhi and Xitang. In my opinion, Grand Canal is not only the sophisticating World Heritage Site, but also a very sophisticating in term of tactic on planning World Heritage Site nomination.

Ian Cade - December 2011

It looks like this site may be China's proposal in 2014. As such I decided I could attempt to get in a pre-emptive strike at what I hope may be part of the inscription. I visited the new Grand Canal park in the town of Tongzhou which is essentially a suburb of Beijing. It is here that the massive Grand Canal had its northern terminus, before goods were offloaded to be taken into Beijing proper. It seems a lot of money has been spent on making the park into a nice recreation area, and some of the local bridges are also being restored. The park has some nice touches, especially a sculpture on the ground that recreates the course of the canal and shows scenes from its illustrious history. However whilst I was there is just felt pretty windblown and desolate, the only people there were a group of school children, an elderly man flying a kite and one western tourist trying hard to fight off jet lag.

It was nice to be there though and it was interesting in an everyday off the beaten track kind of way. I can't say I have seen the best of this massive feat of engineering, but the girth of the canal was impressive. My hopes of getting onto the water were scuppered, there were no pleasure boats sailing (despite internet sources suggesting there were), the floating restaurant was closed and looking derelict and it was too windy for me even to venture out on the pedalo (at least I think that is what the bemused attendant was try to explain to me).

Houhai lake in central Beijing was part of the canal system but I am not sure if it is part of the proposal. I went there in anticipation of some nice relaxed bars around the shore line however it seems that it has had massive investment in the last few years, and it appears it is being turned into a kind of over the top tourist resort with identikit neon bars, it wasn't really to my taste. But as with many new projects in Beijing it seems that the authorities know what mass tourism wants and here they seem to be combining it with a still being constructed night market. If you are on the hunt for some laid back bars then I would recommend walking about 5 minutes further on to the area around the Drum and Bell towers, where the atmosphere was much nicer.

Perhaps venturing out to Tongzhou is not the best way to see the site, but it was an interesting excursion form the usual tourist routes of Beijing, it Houhai lake is to be included then you need not venture too far to pick up a new WHS should it be inscribed.

[Site 3 Experience 3]

maoying - December 2010

I love this ancient wonder still in use. the most impressive one is in Hangzhou, the southern point of the canal~ river cruise, historic buildings, local restaurants and tea houses, museums along the canal (they are best museums in China, not large in size, but focus on local topics, like pottery, sword, scissor, and of course, canal), art galleries, as well as the night sightseeing. It's just awesome!!

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Site Info

Full name: The Grand Canal

Site History

  • 2014 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription
  • 2014 - Advisory Body overruled

    ICOMOS recommended Referral, overturned by an amendment from India
  • 2014 - Revision

    Includes former TWHS Extension Project of Classical Gardens of Suzhou: Classical Gardens of Suzhou and Historical Street Blocks (2008) and The Ancient Venetian Township in the South of Yangtze River - Nanxun (2001)


The site has 31 locations. Show all

  • Canal Site at Liuzi
  • Cangzhou-Dezhou Section of Nan Canal
  • Changzhou City Section of Jiangnan Canal
  • Hangzhou Xiaoshan – Shaoxing Section of Zhedong Canal
  • Hua County and Xun County Section of Wei Canal (Yongji Canal)
  • Jiaxing-Hangzhou Section of Jiangnan Canal
  • Linqing Section of Huitong Canal
  • Nanwang Complex
  • Nanxun Section of Jiangnan Canal
  • Ningbo Sanjiangkou
  • Ningbo Section of Zhedong Canal
  • No.160 Site of Hanjia Granary
  • Old Beijing City Section of Tonghui Canal
  • Qingkou Complex
  • Sanchkou Section of Bei Canal and Nana Canal in Tianjin
  • Shangqiu Nanguan Section of Tongji Canal
  • Shangqiu Xiayi Section of Tongji Canal
  • Shangyu-YuyaoSection of Zhedong Canal
  • Si County Section of Tongji Canal
  • Site of Caoyun Governor’s Mansion
  • Site of Huiloa Granary
  • Site of Liyang Granary
  • Suqian Section of Zhong Canal
  • Suzhou Section of Jiangnan Canal
  • Taierzhuang Section of Zhong Canal
  • Tongzhou Section of Tonghui Canal
  • Weishan Section of Huitong Canal
  • Wuxi City Section of Jiangnan Canal
  • Yanggu Section of Huitong Canal
  • Yangzhou Section of Huaiyang Canal
  • Zhengzhou Section of Tongji Canal


The site has 19 connections.


  • Canals Includes 10 main sections of canals
  • Notable Bridges Precious Belt Bridge: the first construction of the bridge dates back to the year 816 AD, during the mid Tang dynasty



  • Drifting Across the Sea: A Record of Ming China "His description of cities, people, customs, cuisines, and maritime commerce along China's Grand Canal provides insight into the daily life of China and how it differed between northern and southern China during the 15th century." wiki

Human Activity

  • Irrigation and drainage the series illustrates the history of hydraulic techniques (dykes, lock gates, water supply, weirs, drainage and irrigation, etc.), (AB ev)
  • Salt Yangzhou - 2 elelemtns within this city are the "Salt Ancestral Temple" and the "Former Residence of Lu Shaoxu, a Salt Merchant". A major role of the Canal was to transport salt from south to north. Yangzhou was the administrative center of the Lianghuai sector of the Government's Salt monopoly during the Ming period. See

Individual People

  • Ibn Battuta In 1345 Arab traveler Ibn Battuta traveled China and journeyed through the Abe Hayat river (Grand Canal) up to the capital Khanbalik (Beijing). (wiki)
  • Lord George Macartney Lord Macartney left China by taking the Grand Canal - the account includes detailed descriptions of the journey
  • Matteo Ricci The canal has been admired by many throughout history including ... Matteo Ricci (1552-1610). (wiki)



WHS Hotspots

World Heritage Process