Engineers completed the nearly 400 miles of the Loyang to Beijing canal in 608

Engineers completed the nearly 400 miles of the

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Engineers completed the nearly 400 miles of the Loyang to Beijing canal in 608 ce and by the twelfth century China possessed some 50 , 000 kilo- meters ( 31 , 250 miles) of navigable waterways and canals. Completed in 1327 , the Grand Canal alone stretched 1100 miles and linked Hang- chow in the south with Beijing in the north, the equivalent of a canal from New York to Florida. After the Ming took power they repaired 40 , 987 reservoirs and launched an incredible reforestation effort in planting a billion trees to prevent soil erosion and to supply naval tim- THE MIDDLE KINGDOM 123
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ber. Of course, such impressive engineering was impossible without the central state to organize construction, to levy taxes, and to redistribute the agricultural surplus. Canals allowed rice to be shipped from agri- cultural heartlands in the south to the political center in the north. One report has 400 , 000 tons of grain transported annually in the eleventh century. In Ming times 11 , 770 ships manned by 120 , 000 sailors han- dled inland shipping. Considerable maintenance and dredging were obviously required, all of it carried out by corvée labor, and the neglect of hydraulic systems inevitably led to famine and political unrest. Pottery was an ancient craft that reached unprecedented artistic heights after the eleventh century. The imperial government owned its own industrial-scale kilns and workshops which came to employ thou- sands of craftsmen mass-producing both commonplace and luxury items. The Chinese originated porcelain—a mixture of fine clays and minerals fired at a high temperature—at the end of Han times and per- fected porcelain wares in the twelfth century. The enduring art and technology of Chinese porcelain represent one of the great cultural achievements of the Song and Ming eras. They bespeak a wealthy and cultivated 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 Chinese porcelains, and efforts to duplicate Chinese ceramic technology proved a spur to the pottery industry in Europe at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. Textiles constitute another major industry in traditional China. One twelfth-century Song emperor, for example, purchased and received in taxes a total of 1 . 17 million bolts of silk cloth. The Chinese textile industry is especially notable because of its mechanized character. Sources document the presence of the spinning wheel in China from 1035 ce , and Chinese technologists also created elaborate, water- powered reeling machines to unwind silkworm cocoons and wind silk thread onto bobbins for weaving into cloth. And paper manufacturing, possibly evolving out of the textile industry, provided a product that facilitated the administration of imperial China. Solid evidence exists for paper from late Han times early in the second century ce , although the technology may have originated several centuries earlier.
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