Frank Wen Yao


Da Yunhei: Evolution and Symbolism Under Chinese Leadership

Advised by Peter Rowe

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) it aims to conduct a historical study of the Grand Canal and focuses on the political dynamics behind the project and how this political symbol was sustained and evolved, and (2) it will contribute original knowledge to the field of China studies, and it will also encourage further studies on large-scale Chinese infrastructures.

Frank Wen Yao, MDes. Aerial map showing a land mass to the left and a large body of water to the right with waterways extending into the land area, as well as multiple ponds. Along one waterway are multiple clusters of development shown in blue.
Frank Wen Yao, MDes. Map of the Grand Canal of China and major canal cities.
Frank Wen Yao, MDes. Map of the Grand Canal in South Yangtze River Delta and major urban areas along the canal.
Frank Wen Yao, MDes. Map of Hangzhou and canal front fabric.
Frank Wen Yao, MDes. Typical water fabric of canal cities.
Frank Wen Yao, MDes. Evolution of the Grand Canal.
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