Descendants of the dragon

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

The Chinese believe that the dragon is a totem of the Chinese nation, a symbol of China that is closely associated with Chinese history and civilization. I truly believe that China has, in many ways, symbolized prosperity — something we often see in preparation for Chinese New Year as we bring out the fruits, the angpao and the tikoy.

One of the things that has recently caught my attention is the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, a waterway system that stretches on the eastern plain of China for 1,974 km and links five of China’s main river basins. From the perspective of  prosperity, this grand canal played an important role in ensuring China’s economic success and stability, and to date, it is still in use as a major means of communication.

The Grand Canal of China that starts from Beijing and ends in Hangzhou was built in the Tang Dynasty and it is the longest and largest ancient canal in the world that was constructed to enable the following Chinese regimes to transport extra grain from the agriculturally rich Yangtze (Chang) and Huai river valleys to feed the capital cities and large standing armies in northern China.

It is also a UNESCO world heritage site that was completed and maintained by successive dynasties. In terms of communication, this grand canal also enabled China to accomplish the tasks of the military and meet the economic demand. However, at some point, the canal was no longer functioning as envisioned.

To date, one hundred thousand river vessels transit through the canal every year and transport 260 million tons of what consist mostly of construction materials. The Grand Canal of China is not only the oldest canal in the world – it is also the longest, far longer than either the Suez or Panama Canals with 24 locks and 60 bridges. It also bears witness to the technical capabilities of Eastern civilizations that include early examples of hydraulic techniques.

Again, and in line with prosperity, the Grand Canal  bolstered the economies along its route and created large commercial cities such as Linqing, which was a minor county before the construction of the canal that eventually developed into a trade center by the early Qing Dynasty and was promoted to a municipality in 1777.

It took over six years to build the grand canal that proved to be a clear demonstration of China’s ancient philosophic concept of Great Unity.

In more recent times, according to an article from the Economist, the southern province of Guangxi has a project that is set to build a canal costing $10.5 billion that will link its main river system to the sea and will involve a series of demolition, digging, dredging and building activities over the next four and a half years. Pondered upon for more than a century, the Pinglu Canal is said to be the first canal connecting a river to the sea, predicting big advantages for the economy of Guangxi, which is known to be one of China’s poorest provinces.

It is also said to link Nanning, capital of South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, with the Beibu Gulf and while it will be the shortest waterway, it will also be the most economical and most convenient sea outlet in southwestern China.

The dragon as a totem of China signifies the outstanding people forming part of their culture and is considered as a benevolent sign,with many respectable capabilities that go beyond luck and fortune. The dragon for the Chinese was more often seen in a positive light and particularly associated with life-giving rains and water resources. The dragon was everywhere in ancient China and is larger than life today and, more than ever, in the Chinese soul.

In the end, just like the unbent spirit of the Chinese, prosperity simply means moving forward and to me, the Chinese know how to keep their eyes focused on what comes next – from civilization to civilization – from plan to plan as forward thinking is the key to prosperity and, not to mention, one’s recognized identity.

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