Asian Waters–The Hai River and North China Water Supply.

                       by David Parmer / Tokyo

The concept behind Professor Joseph Needham’s massive work, Science and Civilization In China, was that in ancient times China was at the leading edge of technology while the rest of the world more or less muddled along. As for water management, records show that water management technology was known and practiced some 1500 years ago during the Sui Dynasty (581-618).

During the Sui, measures were already being taken to control and channel the Haihe or Hai River. Although we can say that the Hai River flows from Beijing to Tianjin and then to the Bohai Sea and that it is more than 1300km in length, this “linear” description would seriously miss the point.

For the Hai is not “a” river, but five bodies of water including the North Canal, the South Canal, the Yongding River, the Daqing River and the Ziya River that flow through Sandong, Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin. And more appropriately, this whole conglomeration can be seen as the Hai River basin encompassing an area of some 318km2


The Hai River in Tianjin is a pretty sight as it flows through the city under a series of attractive low-rise bridges. At night the banks of the river are illuminated, and colorful boats ply the river making for a festive scene.  For the greater Bohai basin however, things are not quite so attractive.  As with many of China’s other water sources, the twin problems of water pollution and water scarcity also affect the Hai River basin.

Water pollution has increased over the years due to uncontrolled economic development and the use of ground water for agriculture has led to varying degrees of water scarcity. Stakeholders including industry, shipping agriculture and recreation vie for Hai water resources and have all contributed to the water management problems facing the Chinese government.

Efforts to deal with the problems of water scarcity and water pollution were addressed in 2016 by an initiative called the Hai River Basin Project. Those involved were the Chinese government, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The World Bank advanced US$9.5 billion for the project to create an integrated water and environmental approach to the problem. The project not only examined to Hai River basin, but also its relation to the Bohai Sea. The target for all concerned was to come up with plans to upgrade the water quality and ecosystem sustainability in the Hai River basin.

At the same time, and to the south the government of China was engaged in a civil engineering project of staggering proportions– the South North Water Transfer Project. This scheme called for the transfer of 44.8 billion m3 of water from the Yangtze River to North China. This audacious project called for water resources from southern China to be pumped north via three separate and unique routes.

The Eastern Route

This route is basically an improvement on the venerable Grand Canal. Work began in 2002 and after delays was finished in 2014. The water transfer involves 13 pumping stations and a tunnel under the Yellow River traveling 1150 km before finally reaching the Tianjin area.

The Central Route

This route was started in 2003 and completed in 2014. It travels 1246km from the Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han River to the Beijing area. While this route had the force of gravity on its side and did not require the pumping stations found on the eastern route, it did have serious environmental impacts in the form of the necessity to relocate 300,000 people.

The Western Route

Planned, but yet to be built, the Western route is the most ambitious and most audacious of the three routes. The plan is to divert waters of the upper Yangtze River to the Yellow River. It will cross the Tibetan and Yunnan Plateaus through a combination of dams and tunnels and then cross the Bayankala Mountains to northwest China. Besides being the most challenging of the three routes, the Western route also creates challenges in the areas of transboundry waters. Water diversion for this route would affect the great rivers of China’s neighbors; the Mekong, the Brahmaputra and Indus rivers.

There has been criticism of the South North Water Transfer Project in terms of sustainability, environmental damage and the displacement of peoples. In spite of this water flows north to Beijing, Tianjin and the Hai River basin where it is needed for agriculture and industry. The challenge now that water scarcity has been addressed is to keep water quality high in other areas so they can enjoy the benefits of fresh, clean water, as do the inhabitants of Tianjin on a regular basis. More needs to be done in terms of water conservation and wise water use and tough enforcement of water pollution rules, but attention will have to stay focused on this vital resource, not just for the Hai River but also for all water resources throughout China.

Photo: Tianjin Docsteacher Hai River

Illustration: Hai River Basin Wikipedia

Illustration: South North Water Transfer Project Ran Xin

Chongqing – Symbol of China’s Dynamic Present.

                        by David Parmer / Tokyo

What might China be like in the next 70 years? A quick look at the PRC’s fourth Provincial Level City of Chongqing might supply a lot of the answer to that question. Located at the confluence of the mighty Yangtze and Jialing rivers in mountainous Sichuan province, Chongqing has become the economic center of western China and a key component of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for re-inventing the Silk Road.

Chongqing’s population hovers around 32 million persons with the reported addition of 1300 more people every day. Other cities struggle with the influx of migrants seeking a better life, but it appears that Chongqing has a series of coping mechanisms to deal with this influx.

One such coping mechanism is sheer size. In a country where scale is usually mind boggling, the size of Chongqing is astounding. Its estimated 82,000KM2 makes it the size of a small European country; say Belgium or Austria for example. (And yet, so much of the area where Chongqing is located is mountainous and useable land is finite and being eaten up by constant development.)

So, to a certain extent, the city can handle and utilize the migrant inflow. In addition, the city guarantees certain things to migrants including the right to employment and a pension, public housing and schools for their children. Moreover Chongqing has a modern transportation system consisting of light rail, subway and scenic monorail. This means not only affordable transportation, but also a reduction of automobiles on the road.

Chongqing’s vibrant economy, the magnet for its migrant workers, includes traditional industries like iron and steel production and manufacturing. Chongqing is also China’s largest producer of automobiles and motorcycles with several major players including Ford Motor Company having facilities there.

The city has aimed to up-market its industries to encourage more hi-tech enterprises. One step toward this was the creation of a free trade zone that saw the participation of more than 12,000 firms in fields such as AI, aerospace and medical equipment.

Chongqing features big in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Starting in 2011, the Chongqing-Duisburg Germany rail link has seen more than 4100 trips carrying goods including personal computers to the West in a relatively-short 13-day overland trip. The city is also a party to the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity which met in Beijing in August 2019 to discuss cooperation in several areas including the construction of a land-sea corridor to SE Asia.

 Finally, Chongqing has had, and continues to have, a robust tourist industry featuring scenic spots around the city, abundant tourist attractions, the Three Gorges Dam and its famous Sichuan cuisine including hotpot and other spicy dishes.

Chongqing could be considered the face of China future, but right now it gives a great insight into the life, struggles and triumphs of a once sleepy backwater turning itself into a truly global city of the future.

Photo: Wikipedia

Asian Waters—China’s Venerable Grand Canal

 The Grand Canal represents the greatest masterpiece of hydraulic engineering in the history of mankind, because of its very ancient origins and its vast scale, along with its continuous development and its adaptation to circumstances down the ages. It provides tangible proof of human wisdom, determination and courage. It is an outstanding example of human creativity, demonstrating technical capabilities and a mastery of hydrology in a vast agricultural empire that stems directly from Ancient China.   (UNESCO World Heritage List)

                 by David Parmer / Tokyo

Unlike China’s other great treasure, the Great Wall, the Grand Canal is not only an historical relic, but it is also a vibrant part of China’s culture and economy, important today as it was in the 13th century. The 1776 km Hangzhou-Beijing canal, or the Grand Canal, runs from Hangzhou in Zhejiang province through Jiangsu, Shandong, and Hebei provinces. In the North, its route passes Tianjin and ends up in Beijing.


The Grand Canal was started in the late Spring and Autumn period (770-470 BC). The officially agreed upon date seems to be 486 BC. Various sections were linked together during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD) and the project reached completion and its near 2,000km length during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1386 AD). Today only the section from Hangzhou to Jining (see illustration above) is navigable. Some sections in the North have dried up and become impassable or are severely polluted. Historically the canal was used to transport grain from southern China to northern China. The bricks for the Forbidden City in Beijing and the timbers for the Ming Tombs also came north along the canal. Since the end of WWII it has been used to transport building materials and fuel. Estimates are that some 100,000 vessels ply the waters of the Grand Canal every year.

China’s rivers generally flow from west to east, and this is one reason why the south to north flow of the Grand Canal is so important. It not only permits the transport of goods from south to north, but also links five of China’s rivers. In addition to the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, it also links the Huaihe, Haihe and Qiantang rivers.

The Grand Canal is indeed an engineering marvel; it is 10 times longer than the Suez Canal and 22 times longer than the Panama Canal. It is also the longest artificial river in the world. The canal is 1.0m below sea level in Hangzhou but 38.5m above sea level in its modern navigational terminus and Jining in Shandong province. There are 24 locks along the river that make this possible.


In 2014, the once-neglected Grand Canal was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is valued for its cultural value as well as its ongoing contribution to China’s economy. Throughout history the canal has brought goods and culture from one part of vast China to the other. Efforts are ongoing to improve not only the maintenance of the waterway but also the communities along its way. It is clear that the Hangzhou-Beijing canal will continue to have a major influence on the region and the country in this century and for centuries to come.


UNESCO World Heritage Centre

China Daily: Multi-part video series on Grand Canal in Chinese with English subtitles



Top: China Discovery

Map: Wikipedia

Bottom: CNTO