International students discover Grand Canal’s ancient heritage

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International students discover Grand Canal’s ancient heritage

BEIJING – A group of 10 international master’s students, selected by the Communication University of China (CUC) to embark on a research expedition, expressed their deep admiration for the Grand Canal and the preservation efforts of this global treasure.

These students are pursuing master’s degrees in International Communications and Journalism at CUC in Beijing. 

They recently undertook a four-day trip to explore the Grand Canal in Yangzhou, China, to understand its profound influence on ancient China’s politics, economy and culture.

The students, of which this author is one, had the opportunity to visit historical landmarks, including the Wanfu Bridge Tower, Deep Dive Grand Canal Centre, Free Island Wharf, Sui Yang Emperor Park, Grand Canal Yuandian Park, WCCO, Fengshang Tech Company, Guazhou Ancient Town, Shuangdong Historical Street and the Huaiyang Cuisine Museum. 

They also had the chance to experience the grandeur of the Grand Canal Museum and the Yangzhou Aeronautical Museum.

The international students are mainly journalists from Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Jordan and Germany.

Mohammad Ahmad Kamal from Jordan said his experience in Yangzhou was one of the most profound in his life. 

He learned about a sustainable human achievement, which has endured for hundreds of years – the Grand Canal. 

He was amazed to see that even after decades, some parts of this canal, dating back to the 5th century BC, still serve as a source of life, making it one of the most significant canals in the world.

“I greatly admire this visit to Yangzhou, and what this city contains in terms of major institutions with a significant impact in various fields, especially human heritage, such as WCCO and food security, such as the Famson Foundation, with its international projects, aimed at sustaining food resources and achieving food security in developing countries,” he noted. 

He continued, “As a television journalist, I believe that this city should be of interest to major international channels and media institutions to highlight its great importance and its extensive heritage that spans hundreds of years”. Jackson Steven William, a communications officer at the Tanzanian office of the president, was likewise impressed by the museum’s collections and the use of technologies, such as virtual reality and LED displays, significantly improving visitors’ experiences. 

He further emphasised how the Grand Canal was used to transport goods outside China, ensuring cities had enough water supply. Daniel Owira from Kenya highlighted that Yangzhou stood out as the cradle of civilisation, where history has been carefully and intentionally preserved, using modern technology, playing a significant role in shaping the present and guiding the future of the Chinese people.

“It is important to note that Yangzhou’s rich ecosystem, beautifully designed with man-made canals, serves as a water source for the citizens of Yangzhou and China at large, creating a deep connection with both nature, technology and the people,” he observed. 

Owira said it was astonishing to see more than 500 canals in the world, nurturing over 3 000 cities and cultivating brilliant cultures.

The canal is an artificial waterway construction connecting inland and natural water resources, and he urged Africa to
utilise resources, such as rivers and oceans that they have to boost their agricultural sectors and industrial production. 

“It is important to note that its ability to meander across extensively increases benefits that go beyond people, cities, nations and regions. It supports not only agriculture but also plays a pivotal role in industrial production, serving as a sports and games training centre, a hub for tourism and heritage, as well as a source for ecology and ecosystem,” Owira continued. Furthermore, if Africa emulates these, the canals will be a great source of boosting the economy, facilitating both national and local trade and commerce. 

“The canals deepen the connection of diverse cultures, hence promoting political mutual understanding and respect within the indigenous borders,” he reasoned.

Albert Krause from Germany expressed his joy in visiting the parks around the Grand Canal, interacting with local people, experiencing the special cuisine and visiting the museums. “There was always a sense of community that connected us,” he said. 

“My experience was enlightening, realising that there are just as many waterways as foreigners coming to this city, contributing to its success and, by that, chasing one’s dream was truly impacting.”

China’s Grand Canal, a vast waterway connecting the northern and southern parts of China, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. 

Yangzhou, a scenic city through which the Grand Canal runs, is renowned for canal-side attractions like Slender West Lake and the Sanwan Canal scenic area.

In recent years, the city has been devoted to protecting its historical and cultural heritage, maintaining the distinctive features of the old town, and improving people’s living environment and cultural atmosphere. 

Yangzhou has also fast-tracked innovation, witnessing the integration of traditional culture and the creative industry.

With the goal of Chinese modernisation in sight, Yangzhou is making every effort to build a vibrant city, featuring technological innovation, a cultural tourism city and a beautiful, liveable city.


Preservation and responsibility

The locals who warmly welcomed the team explained that while the Grand Canal in Yangzhou offers a glimpse into the past, it also serves as a poignant reminder of the collective responsibility to safeguard the global heritage.  They said efforts to preserve this historical treasure involve finding a balance between modern development and historical conservation.

Yangzhou, like many cities in China, is undergoing rapid urbanisation. 

Yet, local authorities are diligently working to ensure this development respects and preserves the historical significance of the Grand Canal. Restoration projects are breathing new life into the canal’s ancient infrastructure, employing traditional construction techniques and materials to maintain authenticity. This commitment to preservation not only protects the canal’s historical value, but also fosters cultural exchange and tourism, bolstering the local economy.

Professor Zhang Kai from the Institute of Communication Studies of CUC and the director of the Media Education Research Centre, who accompanied the group, shared her sentiments that the Grand Canal in Yangzhou is not just a local treasure but a symbol of shared global heritage.

“The international community has recognised its significance, with UNESCO designating it as a World Heritage Site. This designation underscores the canal’s universal cultural importance and highlights the need for international cooperation in its preservation,” she added.