By Yao Min-G | 2012-11-14 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
THE entire Grand Canal of China - the original 3,200km, both working and dried up - will be submitted in February 2013 for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It's a unique, complicated bid representing many sites, some well preserved, some virtually nonexistent, some rebuilt and overdeveloped into tourist attractions.
Over six years, authorities have treated canal pollution, improved water quality and issued regulations to prevent further pollution. Some canal structures have been rebuilt and areas surrounding canal heritage sites have been renovated.
Led by Yangzhou, 35 cities through which the Grand Canal runs have formed a joint bidding alliance to submit required documentation by February. Next summer international experts will inspect and evaluate the sites.
"This is an unprecedented case in the history of UNESCO World Heritage Sites because this canal has been in function for more than 2,000 years and it is still in use today. It contributes greatly to the country's development," says Jiang Shili, deputy director of the Grand Canal of China's World Cultural Heritage Joint Bidding Office.
The biggest concern, he says, is how to strike a balance between protecting the canal and not interrupting vital traffic. Another issue is the great disparity between the condition of sites, especially between north and south.
"In southern parts around Yangzhou, there are busy shipping channels and we work with relevant departments to treat pollution and prevent illegal discharge and dumping of garbage from vessels without interrupting traffic," Jiang explains.
The canal no longer exists in parts of the arid north, from Tongzhou County of Beijing to Jining City in Shandong Province. The oldest segments were made of packed earth and stone, newer ones were made with cement.
Many of the canal structures - gates, piers, bridges, dams, warehouses, tax offices - are in ruins, or no longer exist. Towns such as Hengshui and Langfang in Hebei Province languished and there was no improvement to the canal area until the UNESCO bid was announced, Jiang says.
But he also emphasizes that it is important for canal cities "not to overprotect it and not to overexploit tourism resources."
In some cities, where the canal was unused, local officials and business leaders were eager to cash in on potential tourism. Some built entirely new tourist spots near heritage sites, focusing more on entertainment and quick money than on protecting the historic and cultural significance of the areas.
The joint bidding office is responsible for monitoring and guiding preservation to maintain a balance between protection, regular economic activities and tourism.