I likely at one point commented, or joked, about China’s nationalist push to get more and more sites named World Heritage Sites, as if this is a contest, to have the most World Heritage Sites. It really kind of dilutes the importance and meaning of the designation if you’re going to try to bid for sites beyond those of truly exceptional significance to be included on the list. The 2007 selection of the Iwami Ginzan silver mine in Japan would once have been my go-to case – ask any tourist, or any tourist guide book, and I can practically guarantee that the mine would not be in the top 100 famous sites in Japan. But, it is hard to deny the importance of Japanese silver not only regionally, but truly globally, in the 16th-17th centuries.
In any case, I can hardly think of a more deserving site than the oldest and longest manmade waterway in the world, China’s Grand Canal (大運河). Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not a World Heritage Site already. Roughly 1776 km long, the Canal connects Beijing in the north and Hangzhou in the south, intersects with five major rivers, and has been an extremely major thoroughfare and trading route within China for roughly 2000 years. As Kelly M explains on her blog, “Eye on East Asia,” some of the oldest sections are said to have been built during the reign of King Fuchai of Wu (r. 495–473 BCE); these and other sections carved by other rulers were combined during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE) to form “The Grand Canal.”
Other Chinese sites currently or recently bid for World Heritage Site status include Beijing’s “Central Axis” (mostly sites connected to Mao Zedong) and the Shaolin Temple (famous for its associations with kung fu). You can keep up with World Heritage Site news via this keen aggregator of NY Times articles on the subject.