The museum display stated it is impossible to appreciate China’s history without understanding its Grand Canal.
We were in the north of Hangzhou to learn about the longest and oldest canal in the world. A colossal engineering achievement, built by forced labour, in which half of the 5.5 million workforce died.
By 1293, the 1794km route from Hangzhou to Beijing linked the economic and political centres of China, significantly boosting trade, supporting the growing population, and strengthening the control of the dynasties.
So, as the backbone of China for some 600 years, why had we never heard of it? Probably, because much of its route has now disappeared. Also this endeavour is overshadowed by the Great Wall of China.
In the Grand Canal Museum, there’s a striking mural showing the canal’s heyday. A few steps outside is today’s corresponding scene, the Gongchen Bridge still crosses the wide canal but the only boat passing under its graceful arches is the passenger ferry back to the city centre.
We took the ferry, thinking back to earlier times.