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Hangzhou: The last stop on the fabled Grand Canal

By Yao Minji (Shanghai Daily)

14:07, February 20, 2013

Gongchen Bridge in Hangzhou marks the end of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, the major part of the Grand Canal of China. (Shanghai Daily)

The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal is the jewel on the crown of the vast Grand Canal of China, and the well-preserved Hangzhou segment still operates today. Hangzhou is the southern terminus. Yao Minji reports.

The street is called Xiao He Zhi Jie, literally the Small River Straight Street, because the Small River runs through and divides it. In the northern part of Hangzhou City, the 1-kilometer-long street and the small two-story houses on either side create a nostalgic scene of water towns in Zhejiang Province.

The street is right at the junction where the Grand Canal of China, the Small River and the Yuhangtang River meet.

In old times, many ships were unloaded here.

Hangzhou is the last stop on the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, the best known and most significant component of the Grand Canal of China's bidding for UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site status.

The canal in Hangzhou was first built more than 2,200 years ago to connect Jiaxing and Hangzhou, and it was expanded in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) to be further connected with Suzhou in Jiangsu Province.

In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), when the emperor and his court retreated and moved the capital to Hangzhou, the canal in this area suddenly got much busier and this part of the city also became a major traffic hub and distribution center.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) traveled six times along the canal to inspect the rich Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, and he also stayed in Hangzhou, a regional business and cultural center at the time.

Ships from all over the country came down the Grand Canal and business boomed along the street. All kinds of shops opened, selling food and snacks, tea, rice, alcohol, shipping supplies and other commodities.

Visitors can still get a suggestion of the bustle and prosperity of the old days; the street is still filled with many shops, quite a few in the old style of architecture.

Some houses on the river are around 100 years old and have been renovated.

Typical are the two-story wooden structures that were both for commercial and residential use; shops were on the first floor, bedrooms on the second floor. Many of the facades appear old. The interiors have been renovated with modern facilities and plumbing.

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