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Lingqu Canal

Date of Submission: 29/01/2013
Criteria: (i)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Xing'an County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
Coordinates: N 25° 36’ 10”, E 110° 41’ 10”
Ref.: 5814
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The Lingqu Canal, also known as Dou Canal or Xing’an Canal, is located in Xing’an County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It is an ancient canal that connects the Xiang River and Li River, joins the Yangtze River Basin and Pearl River Basin and links up Central China and Lingnan region. Its overall length is 36.4 km running through towns of Xing’an, Yan’guan, Rongjiang and Xiang’li. Its main projects include the Canal Head Complex, the South Canal and the North Canal.

After the Qin Empire unified China, Shi Lu was assigned by Emperor Qinshihuang to build a canal for grain transport. The project was completed in 214 B.C., which is known as the Lingqu Canal today. It has directly secured the South China with military significance. The Canal has been in service for over 2000 years as the major water transport route between Lingnan (today’s Guangdong and Guangxi) and Central China till completion of the Yuehan Railway and Xianggui Railway in modern times.

The Canal’s main design philosophy is to use weirs to elevate water level of the Xiang River, and they further divert one stream (today’s South Canal) into an upper branch of Li River and directs another stream through a new canal (today’s North Canal) which meanders into Xiang River. In this way, the two rivers are connected to allow communication between the river systems of the Yangtze and the Pearl River. At the canal head, overflow dams, training dikes and side overflow dams are used to divert water and control flood. Moreover, the Canal was built by combing excavation and dam construction, the degree of slope is eased by curves, use of water was controlled by Doumen(ancient locks) and weirs, and existing natural waterway (former course of Xiang River) was utilized or new canals were dug to discharge flood. This is a comprehensive project with multiple hydraulic facilities and making use of all available natural resources. It exhibits the distinctive style and the scientific achievements of ancient Chinese hydraulic projects.

The Lingqu Canal was also built as an irrigation project which turned Xing’an an agriculturally developed area. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Canal was completely renovated and well preserved as an ancient project. Though  it no longer  serves  navigation  and  the irrigation  function  is weakened,  related  waterways  and hydraulic facilities are preserved. Today, the Lingqu Canal stands as an important cultural heritage and a multifunctional hydraulic project serving irrigation, flood control, water supply and tourism.

The technological system created by the Lingqu Canal is of great significance in the world history of canal. It is the evidence for the unique canal technology of ancient China, and an outstanding example of early canals that reflect the Asian hydraulic technology and navigation technology of ancient civilizations. It has innovative and representative achievements in design of a mountain-crossing canal, curved navigation route with locks, and accurate control over water flow by comprehensive hydraulic facilities. Constructed in 214 B.C., it had vital importance for the success of the Qin Empire's conquest of Baiyue ethnic group and Lingnan region, and helped maintain stability in the southern territory of a unified multinational country. Meanwhile, as a typical example of Chinese ancient canal landscapes, the unique landform and winding waterways as well as the rurality of the Lingqu Canal have great aesthetic value.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The technology system created with the construction of the Lingqu Canal is of great significance in the world history of canal. It is the evidence for the uniqueness of canal technology of ancient China, and an outstanding example of early canals that reflect the Asian hydraulic and navigation technology of ancient civilization. It has innovative and representative achievements in design of a mountain-crossing canal, curved navigation route with locks, and accurate control over water flow by comprehensive hydraulic facilities. In addition, it integrates navigation, irrigation and flood control functions and is an outstanding example of comprehensive, sustainable and effective use of natural resources in traditional Chinese agricultural society. Constructed in 214 B.C., it had vital importance for the success of the Qin Empire's conquest of Baiyue ethnic group and Lingnan region, and helped maintain stability in the southern territory of a unified multinational country. Meanwhile, as a typical example of Chinese ancient canal landscapes, the unique landform and winding waterways as well as the rurality of the Lingqu Canal have great aesthetic value.

Criterion (i): The site selection, planning and design of the Lingqu Canal reflect the ancient Chinese people’s creativity in building canals. From the perspective of location and concept, the Canal sits at the “Five Mountains” region in south China and links up the Xiang River in the north and the Li River in the south of the mountains, thus successfully connects the water systems of the Yangtze and the Pearl River. It is not only the first mountain-crossing canal in the world but also one of the earliest successful practices in human history in connecting two different water systems through an artificial canal. From the perspective of design of navigation routes, it uses curves with locks to ensure water depth and speed of water flow for navigation demands. The concept of “curves with locks” was originated from China with the Lingqu Canal as the earliest existing application and technical representative.

Criterion (iv):  Constructed since 214 B.C., the Lingqu Canal is an outstanding example of Chinese canal transportation technology in the Qin Dynasty, a rare example and masterpiece of the ancient canal transportation technology in Asia and even the world, and an outstanding example of comprehensive, sustainable and effective use of water and land resources in Chinese traditional agricultural society. Its main technological feature lies in its use of water resources. The hydraulic facilities are simple but fully operational to accurately control water flow and serve navigation purpose as well as irrigation and flood control. Supplementation, reduction and renovation of hydraulic facilities and historical evolution of irrigation branches, ponds and surrounding  farmlands explain how Chinese ancient  comprehensive  hydraulic  technology  constantly renovated and formed its distinctive system along with natural and social evolution over 2000 years. On the other hand, the winding waterways gradually blends with surrounding natural and cultural settings and forms unique landscape,  making the Lingqu Canal an outstanding example of rural canal landscapes in Chinese traditional agricultural civilization.

Criterion (vi): The construction of the Lingqu Canal was closely related to the military conquest of the Lingnan region by the Qin Empire. It witnessed the important historical progress that the Central China Dynasty conquered the Baiyue ethnic group in the south and achieved stability of the southern territory, a vital moment of the history of Asia and even of the world when Chinese agricultural civilization expanded and reached a unified empire.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity

The nominated property of the Lingqu Canal meets the requirements on authenticity specified in the Operational Guidelines.  It also meets the requirements of the Information Document on Heritage Canals (Experts meeting, Canada, 1994) on canal authenticity. In terms of design and form, the most distinctive heritage elements of the entire project design including naturally bending waterways, water diversion complexes, overflow dams and discharge channels for flood discharge, Doumen and weirs generally stay in the form of the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China; in terms of material,  original materials  are used in hydraulic  facilities  and the modern restorations  also showed respect to the history; in terms of function, the overall hydraulic system remains its ancient functions, and the water diversion system, flood discharge system, irrigation system and water elevation facility operate as usual, and most canal sections are capable for navigation; in terms of tradition, techniques and management system, the ancient navigation system, management system and rules as well as production/construction techniques of some hydraulic facilities are conserved in historical files or research papers; in terms of location and setting, most heritage elements are preserved in original locations; in terms of spirit and emotion, the Lingqu Canal has become an important spirit symbol for the regional community and the unification of China witnessed by the Canal has become an important element of Chinese people’s sense of pride. To sum up, the Lingqu Canal has high authenticity in all aspects.

Integrity

The nominated property of the Lingqu Canal meets the requirements on integrity specified in the Operational Guidelines. First of all, the hydraulic system of the Canal has all the core elements supporting its function. Second, the whole Canal is linked up for traffic whilst each section of the Canal remains intact, and hydraulic facilities, except the dismountable components (locks) of Doumen and weirs and some missing components (e.g. some posts of Doumen), are preserved with sufficient scale and fully operational. Third, the overall property is not under urgent and severe threat. Traditional agricultural production and ecological landscape are preserved in most of the region. In some areas (e.g. inside the Xing’an County) with pressure of urbanization, regulations and plans have been developed for effective conservation.

Comparison with other similar properties

From a technological perspective, we see nine waterways (including canals) inscribed on the World Heritage List or the Tentative List. They represent three technology systems from different periods and civilizations, namely the Western canal technology from the industrial revolution, the Middle East irrigation technology, and the ancient Chinese canal (and irrigation) technology. According to the International Canal Monument List, the technology of the Lingqu Canal is representative in time and region and is an outstanding example of ancient Chinese canal technology. It has many noteworthy features – durability, geographical flexibility, adaptable hydraulic structures, the emphasis on accurate water flow control to cope with rainy and dry seasons, and the integrated navigation, irrigation and flood discharge functions. All features mentioned above prove that the Lingqu Canal has a unique technology system that can distinguish it from the waterways in the West, Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Comparison with hydraulic heritage inscribed on the List of World Heritages or the Tentative List in China reveals that: first, the Lingqu  Canal  is  the  precursor  to  later  mountain-crossing  canals;  second,  it  always  balances  functions  of transportation, irrigation and flood control and optimizes use of water resources. Comparatively, the Grand Canal and the Dujiangyan System in China emphasize one function (either transportation or irrigation), therefore are left behind of the Lingqu Canal in terms of coordination and comprehensive use of water resource; third, the Lingqu Canal typically  exhibits  the  navigation  principle  of  “curves  with  locks”  which  is  more distinctive  and  representative compared with other domestic and international cases.

From a historical perspective, it was the Chinese people who first used canals for military purpose. This idea hadn’t been widely accepted in the West until modern times. The Lingqu Canal stands as a forerunner and excellent example of military canals. In China, the Grand Canal also had military function which, however, was secondary comparing with transport function and was limited in certain sections of the canal. The entire Lingqu Canal was designed to serve the military strategy for conquest and was directly associated to the conquest of Lingnan region. Therefore it is more typical as a military canal.

From a scenic perspective, the curves of the Lingqu Canal can offer a different voyage. Seldom canal heritages have such curves to form similar landscape. In addition, from the perspective of landscape elements, the Western canals mostly reflect classical aesthetics or industrial beauty; the waterways in the Middle East reflect a unique landscape based on its geographical features (desert); the Lingqu Canal, however, has perfectly blended the waterways with its surrounding environment to present a picture of harmony between the nature and Chinese farming tradition.

In conclusion, the Lingqu Canal has its outstanding universal value supported by above mentioned comparative analysis.