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China's Grand Canal Queues for World Heritage Status

China is assessing the feasibility of applying for world heritage status for its Grand Canal and will officially start the application process soon, said a senior Chinese cultural heritage official.

"The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal is the longest artificial river in the world, as well as a key north-south water channel in China. The Grand Canal and the Great Wall are two great engineering wonders of ancient China," said Shan Jixiang, directorof the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), while attending the 28th Session of the World Heritage Committee held in Suzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province.

The latest version of the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of UNESCO's Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage has made canals and cultural routes new varieties of world heritage.

"China's Grand Canal possesses all the basic features required by relevant standards. It has indisputable outstanding universal value and is an important embodiment of the Chinese culture," said Professor Yu Kongjian of Beijing University.

Completed in 1291, the Grand Canal starts from Tongzhou District of Beijing in the north and runs 1,794 kilometers southward to Hangzhou of east China's Zhejiang Province. The project traverses five major rivers in China -- the Haihe River, the Yellow River, the Huaihe River, the Yangtze River and the Qiantang River -- and six provinces.

Over long periods, the canal served as an important route to ship grain from the fertile south to the grain-consuming north in ancient China. Prosperous economic belts emerged along the banks of the canal accordingly, said Yu.

He said the canal also bears witness to cultural exchanges between China's north and south. Numerous historical incidents, major schools of thoughts, important literary works and folk customs are linked with this waterway.

However, fast urbanization has brought risks to the Grand Canal, said Dr. Li Wei of Beijing University, who specializes in the research of the Grand Canal.

"Certain sections of the canal have become dried and encroached upon by urbanization and land cultivation. Local operas, legends and folk customs linked with those sections are vanishing day by day," he said.

SACH's Shan attributed the situation to lack of due attention by regional governments and a unified planning and management system to overlook the whole project.

Shan, however, envisioned opportunities for the preservation ofthe Grand Canal as a cultural relic in the future.

"The eastern route of the south-north water diversion project under construction will mainly rely on the course of the ancient Grand Canal. It brings chances to rehabilitating the paralyzed ecological systems in certain sections and realizing comprehensive preservation of the Grand Canal," he said.

"Proper protection, along with rational utilization, can give a chance for the revival such a century-old waterway," he added.
(Xinhua News Agency July 6, 2004)


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