As is accentuated by President Xi Jingping, protecting the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal is the responsibility shared by people along the canal. Based on field study, the author comments on the measures taken and achievements made during the construction of the Grand Canal cultural belt and its development trend, before offering instructions of further development in this regard.


First, over-all progress was pursued while extra efforts were put on key areas. We focused on formulating systematic and coordinating policies backed by supporting measures. The leading group from Jiangsu is in charge of the overall design, coordination of the construction and the implementation of the policies, and the improvement of the project. The construction work was divided into concrete tasks that can be supervised and assessed, and then assigned to 8 along-the-canal cities of Jiangsu Province. The Beijing government took multiple measures to protect and develop the cultural belt, in order to make it a model project for Beijing’s endeavor towards national cultural center, a project that meets people’s ever-growing cultural needs, and a landmark for a world-class livable city.

Second, both general top-level design and pilot projects were carried out. For example, Zaozhuang of Shandong Province gave full play to its successful experience in preserving and developing the heritage city of Tai’erzhuang, and its unique role in the construction of the belt. Cangzhou and Hengshui of Hebei Province deemed the belt as the pillar for poverty alleviation and leverage their well-preserved cultural resources and fast-developing industries to create jobs and increase revenue. Jiangsu reach of the canal abounds in cultural heritage. Their provincial cultural department contributed proactively to the construction of the belt while taking grassroots advice to formulate regulations accordingly.

Third, the ‘making’ and ‘breaking’ methods should be adopted in due time. Beijing and Hebei established and improved a system for the entry and exit of industries -- while the entry was restricted, industries not in line with the goal of the belt were weeded out, so as to optimize the operation environment for the market entities. Also, Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei joined hand to develop the north part of the canal. An approximately 3666.7 hectares of national wetland park was planned to be built out of Chaobai River, a segment of the canal. Cangzhou kicked off the first stage of the ‘ecologic belt’ project, and created ancient Chinese-styled cultural scenery along the 4.2 km river bank. The Wuqiao Acrobatics World would be transformed into a ecologic version.

Fourth, government of all levels implemented moderate regulation and granted due freedom -- they withdrew excessive regulation, filled the vacancy of administration, and delineated a border between the government and the market. Jiangsu provincial government urged municipal branches to focus on delivering their duties such as making rules, regulating the market, providing public services and goods. Different methods were adopted to provide different public services for achieving both high quality and efficacy. Hengshui of Hebei planned to build the ‘beautiful countryside’ out of the 31 villages along the canal, with key efforts on three projects -- the world heritage, Huajiakou River Dike; attraction of cultural tourism, Baicaowa Ancient Village; and the Jing County Scenic Route. Xingtai used its brand of ‘hometown of Yang Shoujing (a famous geologist from Qing dynasty)’ to further the construction of the belt and related industries. Handan drew a ‘cultural map of the canal’ by conducting a thorough survey of the 141.8-km-long river bank for cultural heritages and filed the digital information of the canal.

This is a systematic project that requires regulation and order. Beijing, for example, is a pioneer for preserving and carrying forward cultural heritage. Tongzhou District delved into the ecological and tourist development, and worked to prevent the cultural parks and ancient villages from conformity. Huai’an of Jiangsu exhibited Caoyun (water transport of grain to the capital) through big data, mobile Internet, virtual reality and other modern technology to add more flavor of creativity and innovation. Tianjin built a variety of Canal theme parks of their own characteristics: North Canal Country Park in Wuqing District, North Canal Dike of Peach Blossom, Emperor’s Ferry of South Canal, Imperial River in Xiqing District, Chenguantun Museum for Canal Culture in Jinghai District, etc. 

Jiangsu and Zhejiang played leading roles in cross-provincial cooperation and expanded their coordination to strategic development, planing, policy, and project. Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei co-established a system of information sharing, profit sharing and profit compensation. Building on the current ‘Tongzhou-Xianghe-Wuqing’ tourist channel, the three cities planned to make it available for freight transport by 2020. Shandong Province made use of its world cultural heritages, namely the Grand Canal, Mount Tai, the Three Representative Scenic Spots of Confucius in Qufu, and the Great Wall of Qi, and established a cooperative intercity protection mechanism and separate conservation measures for the 128 tangible and 27 intangible cultural heritages here, as well as the Linqing Toll Station, Linqing Dagoba, Aotouji Ancient Architecture Complex, etc.

Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei intensified the management of water resource by increasing water transfer from outside and updating waterway facilities. Their efforts in constructing the Daqinghe-Baiyangdian Water Park is one of the examples of the government’s innovation and flexibility. Jiangsu reach, of the highest commercial value throughout the canal, is divided by the Yangtze River into South and North Jiangsu Canal. The south one is the country’s main channel for such bulk commodities as building materials, while the north part serves as an integral part of the ‘North-to-South Coal Transfer’ project. The yearly volume of freight here totaled 120 million tons, 73 million of which is coal. For years, water transport has steadily accounted for 50% of Jiangsu’s total turnover and 25% of freight. Now, a comprehensive and coordinating protection mechanism is established for the 4 provinces and 2 cities along the canal.

II. Instructions

Firstly, the development of the Grand Canal cultural belt requires cultural system reform and innovation. In the past few years, the belt is under sound development thanks to institutional innovation such as the corporatization of cultural public institutes, the establishment of modern cultural market system, the governmental arrangement of cultural products circulation, the financing system for cultural industries, import and export policies, intellectual property rights. At the same time, cultural and tourist governmental departments along the canal should work to meet people’s ever-growing needs for a better life, speed up the supply side structural reform, upgrade and transform the cultural industries along the canal to improve the quality and efficacy, so as to form a system of reasonable structure, full range of cultural aspects, advanced technology, creativity and competitiveness.

Secondly, the government should integrate the development of the Grand Canal cultural belt in to the ‘Three Development Strategies’ (the Belt and Road Initiative, the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, and the development of the Yangtze Economic Belt) and thus accelerate the policy implementation of the belt. Provinces and cities along the route should seek for complementation to boost the cultural belt construction with the three strategies as a foundation. Guided by the strategies, they should advance culture by developing cultural industries, fostering cooperation in animation, games, shows, trades of cultural products, etc. In terms of cooperation in art performance, for example, trade fair of entertainment projects and forums of show business can be held, and performances under the theme of the canal be staged. Also, cultural and economic policies need to be enhanced and implemented. Communication and coordination of related departments is to be improved. While carrying out more tailored and feasible policies, they should also expedite the implementation of current measures to ensure their effectiveness.

Thirdly, the integration of culture with sci-tech, information, tourism, sports and finance (the ‘1+5’ integration) will transform the whole landscape of the cultural belt. Cultural industry, combining primary, secondary and tertiary industries, is an important driving force. The key to boost the cultural development of the belt lies in leveraging the power of the market through the ‘1+5’ integration chain. Tourism, in particular, should be closely combined with cultural industries, for a tour becomes more meaningful if it is cultural, and tourism, in turn, stimulates cultural exchange and consumption. The government should support financial institutes like banks and insurance companies to develop creative cultural products, and guide cultural enterprises to multiple legal financing channels. Cities, counties, and towns should meet people’s changing needs by supplying them with proper products and services, so that the along-the-belt industries will become green, low-carbon and happiness-oriented. Meanwhile, municipal governments should beautify their cities with creative cultural designs to further integrate cultural industries into ecological development.

Fourthly, core socialist values, fine traditional Chinese culture and local cultural resources should be the guide and foundation for fine cultural creations. By making full use of the historical, cultural, political, tourist and ecological resources here, local governments need to increase the support for the creation of original fine cultural products embodying in-depth thoughts, virtuosity, and perfect craftsmanship. Featured cultural resources can be forged into original brands -- a key move toward making the belt ‘a cultural region of good taste, a green ecological region of charming appearance, and a region of high-quality tourism’. What’s more, they should apply high technologies, such as the digital technology and Internet, to cultural creation, production, communication and consumption, and cultivate new business patterns with the help of big data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other new technologies.

Fifthly, the legal system for cultural course and industries should be bettered in order to upgrade the legislature level. To be specific, they should perfect laws and regulations regarding the cultural market entity and their operations, guarantee of their rights and interests, and management of the market. They should make a clear list of their duties to avoid overlapping administration. Also, supervision over cultural products should be intensified. They should make clear the criteria for market entry and exit, and in particular, improve the exit system for market entity in all links of market operation. A negative list of forbidden industries should be made. The government needs to update the management system of cultural market starting from taxation regulation and specific market management. At the same time, guilds of cultural industries should be encouraged by the authority and supported by a sound legal system regarding intermediary agents. This is part of the efforts of marketizing cultural industries.

Sixthly, it is a natural course for China to follow the universal law of the development of canal. We should prioritize the preservation of the canal before developing it in a scientific and reasonable manner based on the experience learned from other countries. Meanwhile, cultural enterprises should be the main force and cultural trade the main way to internationalize the Grand Canal culture and related cultural industries to foster cross-border win-win cooperation. Based on the cities along the canal, we will expand the cooperation to countries and regions along the ‘Belt and Road’.

The ultimate goal of the project is to heighten people’s sense of gain and happiness through a long-term mechanism. The government should guide people’s consumption, tap into the region’s consumption potential after summing up the experience of the trial projects. To raise the sense of gain, we should prioritize the preservation of the canal, balance cultural heritage protection and social economic development, bearing in mind that preservation is the prerequisite of the prosperity of this region. To increase people’s sense of happiness, we need to prioritize public service, improve the ecology, and facilitate scientific development of cultural tourism and industries. The project is supposed to meet people’s needs for better life, so we should care for people’s well-being, and pay more attention to public facilities, living conditions, income, education, health and elderly care and other indicators of public service and the security of people’s livelihood during the process. We will make visible achievements in building the Grand Canal Cultural Belt, and turn it into a milestone for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. (Original article from Guangming Daily)

To Speed op the Construction of the Grand Canal Cultural Belt