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Engineers completed the nearly 400miles of the Loyang to Beijing canalin608 ceand by the twelfth century China possessed some 50,000kilo-meters (31,250miles) of navigable waterways and canals. Completedin1327, the Grand Canal alone stretched 1100miles and linked Hang-chow in the south with Beijing in the north, the equivalent of a canalfrom New York to Florida. After the Ming took power they repaired40,987reservoirs and launched an incredible reforestation effort inplanting a billion trees to prevent soil erosion and to supply naval tim-THE MIDDLE KINGDOM123
ber. Of course, such impressive engineering was impossible without thecentral state to organize construction, to levy taxes, and to redistributethe agricultural surplus. Canals allowed rice to be shipped from agri-cultural heartlands in the south to the political center in the north. Onereport has 400,000tons of grain transported annually in the eleventhcentury. In Ming times 11,770ships manned by 120,000sailors han-dled inland shipping. Considerable maintenance and dredging wereobviously required, all of it carried out by corvée labor, and the neglectof hydraulic systems inevitably led to famine and political unrest.Pottery was an ancient craft that reached unprecedented artisticheights after the eleventh century. The imperial government owned itsown industrial-scale kilns and workshops which came to employ thou-sands of craftsmen mass-producing both commonplace and luxuryitems. The Chinese originated porcelain—a mixture of fine clays andminerals fired at a high temperature—at the end of Han times and per-fected porcelain wares in the twelfth century. The enduring art andtechnology of Chinese porcelain represent one of the great culturalachievements of the Song and Ming eras. They bespeak a wealthy andcultivated society, and, indeed, ceramics became a major item of inter-nal and international commerce and of tax income for the state. Chi-nese pottery made its way through the Islamic world and to Africa.From the Middle Ages onward Europeans came to covet Chineseporcelains, and efforts to duplicate Chinese ceramic technology proveda spur to the pottery industry in Europe at the time of the IndustrialRevolution in the eighteenth century.Textiles constitute another major industry in traditional China. Onetwelfth-century Song emperor, for example, purchased and received intaxes a total of 1.17million bolts of silk cloth. The Chinese textileindustry is especially notable because of its mechanized character.Sources document the presence of the spinning wheel in China from1035 ce, and Chinese technologists also created elaborate, water-powered reeling machines to unwind silkworm cocoons and wind silkthread onto bobbins for weaving into cloth. And paper manufacturing,possibly evolving out of the textile industry, provided a product thatfacilitated the administration of imperial China. Solid evidence existsfor paper from late Han times early in the second century ce, althoughthe technology may have originated several centuries earlier.