Da Yun He: Symbolism and Evolution Under China’s Leadership

by Frank Wen Yao (MDes ULE ’20)

For centuries, China has been known for its top-down, large-scale infrastructural projects, including the Grand Canal, the Ancient Silk Road, and the contemporary Belt and Road initiative. This thesis takes the Grand Canal as a precedent. The Grand Canal (Dayunhe), which connects Beijing to Hangzhou, has been a significant part of logistical, cultural, economic, and social infrastructure in China. This historical entity evolved over time and played a significant role in China’s civilizational progress. Despite its known importance, the ambition of the canal is enormous and is reflected in China’s technical ability and political capacity for execution. Thus, the essence of the Grand Canal lies in the idea of “Central Kingdom”—seeking ideal prosperity and Sino-centralized spatial governing strategy—the canal is beyond the concept of infrastructure and it is both the idea and the entity. As the Grand Canal evolved, it became a political symbol of Chinese civilization. However, like many other state projects initiated by China, it contains both benefits and downsides throughout time, and this lacks academic study.

Therefore, concerning future professionals and Chinese authorities, the aims of the thesis are twofold: (1) conduct a historical study of the Grand Canal with focus on the political dynamics behind the project and how this political symbol was sustained and evolved, and (2) contribute original knowledge to the field of China studies, encouraging further studies on large-scale Chinese infrastructures.