BEIJING, March 15 -- A national organization is to be established this year to better protect the world's longest and oldest canal, the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, making it a top candidate for a world heritage site, a senior official said.
Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said at a press conference during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that the organization will coordinate protection efforts from different governmental departments and provinces along the canal.
Shan admitted the 2,400-year-old canal, approved by the State Council as a national key cultural relic in 2005, is facing a series of problems because of inadequate protection efforts.
Shan said it lacks legislative support, good planning, a coordinating mechanism and funds.
Shan criticized some places for damaging the canal's ancient look and original style by constructing numerous city squares and grasslands along the waterway.
"The canal is more than a tourist attraction," Shan said. "We should combine the protection work with economic development and benefit people's lives."
Shan disagreed with the idea of making the whole canal navigable again.
The canal is now navigable between Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province and Jining in Shandong Province. Because of inadequate water and narrow course, most of the canal's northern section (from Beijing to Jining) is not navigable.
Zhou Liang, an official with the Ministry of Communications, said the canal remains important to the economy in addition to its cultural value.
More than 100,000 vessels use the canal today and carry 260 million tons of goods every year, three times as much as the Beijing-Shanghai Railway, Zhou said.
"The canal connects major coal bases in the north and serves as a cheap and convenient channel to transport coal to the fast developing Yangtze River Delta," Zhou said.
To improve its transportation capacity, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces will invest 20 billion yuan (2.56 billion U.S. dollars) on dredging the waterway by 2010.
On completion of the project, the canal will have at least a level-3 navigational ability, allowing 1,000-ton vessels to sail from the Dongping Lake in Shandong Province to Hangzhou. Its transportation capacity will increase by 40 percent.
At present, the section south of the Yangtze River has only a level-4 navigational ability.
The 1,794-kilometer-long Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal links five major rivers, the Haihe, Yellow, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang.
With parts of the canal dug in the 5th century BC, the canal had served as a major south-north transport artery since it was completed in the 13th century during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
(Source: China Daily)