The ancient Grand Canal of China, built more than two thousand years ago, is being rebuilt.
The ancient Grand Canal of China, built more than two thousand years ago, is being rebuilt. In a massive reconstruction scheme involving thousands of workers, the canal's bed is being cleared and its walls rebuilt in order to bring new life to China's canal network and water to its barrent regions.
SYNOPSIS: For more than three thousand years, the people of China have been building and using canals.
Now, with the aid of modern equipment and age-old know-how, they are pumping new life into one of their oldest waterways -- the Grand Canal. And the water they are using to fill it with comes from China's other most famous stretch of water -- the mighty Yangtze River, which links up with the Canal at the city of Yangchou.
Seven hundred years ago, the famous traveller Marco Polo was governor of Yangchou, and much of the activity on the local waterways has changed only little since his day. The same goes for their methods of construction.
Much of the excavation on the Grand Canal is being done with the "human-ant" technique employed by the Canal's original builders some two thousand years ago.
Wicker baskets on a bamboo pole have been China's main method of moving earth for thousands of years, and in Chinese eyes it is still highly efficient in terms of capital cost and the jobs it creates. On this site near yangchou, a hundred thousand local peasants have left their fields on instruction from the Government to dig a new bed for the canal and a site for the first of the huge new pumping stations. One of the ways they keep themselves going in this back-breaking work, is by joining in communal songs.
Progress is reported to have been rapid, with several million tonnes of soil being removed in just a few weeks -- all by hand and all carried by these men and women. Over the centuries, millions of peasants have worked like these people to keep the countryside supplied with water and to drain off the potential flood waters of the Yangtze. This time, though, their task is believed to be one of the biggest single projects ever undertaken in China.
Chairman Hua Guofeng has set a target of one thousand cubic metres of water per second that must be drained from the Yangtze. That means a correspondingly large number of new canals and dykes have to be dug to take the influx of water.
The reconstruction also has implications for Yangchou's boat traders. Although road and rail networks have removed much of the water traffic, the new canal scheme is expected to bring a second lease of life to the area's ancient river towns and cities. Two thousand years ago, this canal teemed with boatmen and their families; soon their descendants will sail the same waters.