The Grand Canal
China's Grand Canal certainly lives up to its name, stretching over 1,700 km, which is ten times longer than the Suez Canal and twenty times that of the Panama Canal.
It took several dynasties to build the massive canal network. Work began as early as 506 BC during the Spring and Autumn Period with King Wu, who led his people to dig the first canals in a bid to control central China. Since most of China's major rivers flow from west to east, building a water link from north to south to connect the rivers would greatly facilitate transportation and this became the dream of many emperors.
Emperor Sui Yangdi of the Sui Dynasty was noted for directing construction efforts. At the beginning of the 7th century the Sui united China and made its capital in Luoyang in north China. In order to move food and goods from the prosperous south to the north and to satisfy his personal sense of grandeur, he ordered the connection and expansion of the existing canals. In 603 AD over a million workers began connecting various rivers and existing canals into the Grand Canal linking Luoyang to Yangzhou.
In the 13th century, the emperor of the Yuan Dynasty ordered the repair and expansion of the Grand Canal from Hangzhou to Beijing. This effort took ten years to complete. Today the Grand Canal has fallen out of use, but lengths of it, particularly in the Hangzhou and Suzhou area, continue to serve as an important waterway.