Decoding China: The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal with a history of more than 2,400 years was recognized by UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2014. Not only is it the oldest and longest man-made canal in the world, it was “the world’s largest and most extensive civil engineering project prior to the Industrial Revolution” according to UNESCO. It also has one of the most beautiful sceneries running through Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang. It was first built in 468 BC and went through three major expansions in 770 BC to 476 BC (Spring and Autumn Period), 581 to 618 (Sui Dynasty), and 1271 to 1368 (Yuan Dynasty). The entire length is 1,794 kilometers connecting five major rivers: Hai, Huai, Yantze, Yellow, and Qiantang. Given its long history and its historical significance, it is one of the most important routes with lasting impact to both culture and history of China. If you want to truly understand China, there is no better place to start than the Grand Canal, where we are going to travel back in time to the distant past and then connecting back to modern China.
1: Beijing - Tongzhou District
When it comes to Beijing, most people think of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or Tiananmen Square. But, yet, the Grand Canal is the most consequential to Beijing’s history. Without it, Beijing would not be China’s capital today.
3: Taishan - Tai’an/ Shandong
Tiashan is the most famous sacred mountain of China. According to UNESCO, “On the mountain there are 12 historically recorded imperial ceremonies in homage to Heaven and Earth, about 1,800 stone tablets and inscriptions, and 22 temples, which together make Mount Taishan the most important monument in China, a world-renowned treasure house of history and culture.”
5. Living Ancient Water Town
Depending on our interests and schedule, we will explore one of the local water towns on the way to Hangzhou.
Zhouzhuang - Established over 900 years ago. The most famous and yet the most commercialized.
WuZhen - Established over 1300 years ago. Known for late Qing Dynasty style architectures.
Tongli - Established over 1000 years ago. Known for Ming and Qing style architectures.
XiTang - A living ancient town with over 1000 years history.
7. Shanghai - Modern China
We will finish our trip by exploring Shanghai - the largest and most developed city in China. Shanghai first became a city in 1291 during the Yuan dynasty. The development of modern China closely parallels to that of Shanghai.
2: Confucius Hometown - Qufu/Shandong
Temple of Confucius is the largest and most renowned temple of Confucius in East Asia. Since 1994, the Temple of Confucius has been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4: Suzhou - Venice of the East
According to BBC Travel, “The city of classical charms.” Known as the Venice of the East, Suzhou’s stunning backdrop of flowing rivers and canals has earned its reputation as one of the most picturesque cities in China.
We will also explore Humble Administrator’s Garden (aka Zhuo Zheng Yuan), built in 1509 during the Ming Dynasty. It is one of the four most famous gardens in China due to its unique design and beauty. It is also the largest and the most renowned garden in Suzhou. It is listed as a World Cultural Heritage site and has also been designated as one of the Cultural Relics of National Importance under the Protection of the State.
A trip to Suzhou wouldn’t be complete without experiencing Pingtan and Kungqu. Pingtan is a storytelling and singing performance originated over 400 years ago in Suzhou. Kunqu Opera is recognized as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by the UNESCO in 2001.
6. Hangzhou - The City of Heaven
Marco Polo described Hangzhou as “the city of heaven” in the late 13th century. It is well-known for West Lake, Longjian tea, and silk. West Lake is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Longjiang tea is the most famous among the top teas in China. Hangzhou is also an important historic center for silk production.
During this journey, we will experience three of the eight culinary traditions of China: Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.
Shandong was one of the first civilized regions in China and Shandong cuisine was created during the Yuan Dynasty. Their cuisine tends to be crispy, tender, and greasy with salty, and sometimes, sweat and sour flavors. One of their specialties is seafood. Jiangsu cuisine is richly aromatic and well-known for elaborate presentation. Many dishes require precise and delicate carving techniques in comparison to other Chinese cuisines. It is the cuisine of choice for government banquets. Zhejiang cuisine is non-greasy with a mellow fragrance. Given their proximity to the ocean, they often cook with fresh seafood.