Canals are a Chinese invention – the Grand Canal of China is 1,103 miles long and was started in 486 BC.
The Grand Canal, known to the Chinese as the Jing–Hang Grand Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the longest canal or artificial river in the world. Starting in Beijing, it passes through Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang to the city of Hangzhou, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century BCE, but the various sections were first connected during the Sui dynasty (581–618 CE). Dynasties in 1271–1633 significantly rebuilt the canal and altered its route to supply their capital Beijing.
The total length of the Grand Canal is 1,776 km (1,104 mi). Its greatest height is reached in the mountains of Shandong, at a summit of 42 m (138 ft). Ships in Chinese canals did not have trouble reaching higher elevations after the pound lock was invented in the 10th century, during the Song dynasty (960–1279), by the government official and engineer Qiao Weiyue. The canal has been admired by many throughout history including Japanese monk Ennin (794–864), Persian historian Rashid al-Din (1247–1318), Korean official Choe Bu (1454–1504), and Italian missionary Matteo Ricci (1552–1610).
Historically, periodic flooding of the Yellow River threatened the safety and functioning of the canal. During wartime, the high dikes of the Yellow River were sometimes deliberately broken in order to flood and thus sweep away advancing enemy troops. This would cause disaster and prolonged economic hardships for local residents. Despite temporary periods of desolation and disuse, the Grand Canal furthered an indigenous and growing economic market in China's urban centers from the Sui period onwards to the present. It has allowed faster trading and has thus improved China's economy. The southern portion remains in heavy use to the present day.