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Channeling greatness

(Global Times)

15:11, July 24, 2013

Locals gaze out on the Grand Canal from Tongyun Bridge. Local authorities have spent about 10 billion yuan restoring the little-known area. Photo: Li Hao/GT

With portions of it dating back as far as the 5th century BC, the Grand Canal long served as the economic artery of China. The 1,800 kilometer-long wonder of engineering starts in Beijing and winds down to Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, passing through Hebei, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces along the way as it connects the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. Economic centers like Yangzhou sprouted up along its shores.

Now, as river travel is more of a tourist attraction than means of commerce, Beijing and 34 other canal cities have banded together to apply to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Such a distinction would bring better protections and worldwide recognition. The badge can also translate to major tourist numbers. China currently has 45 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including several within Beijing, such as the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven.

So far, municipal governments and State-owned enterprises have poured billions of yuan into restoring and constructing structures along the canal, according to the Tongzhou district government's website.

While the past significance of the waterway isn't under dispute, historians and locals question whether the canal in its current state merits the huge investment of time and money.

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