As integral sites of commerce and transportation in any city, the waterways and river-sea routes of Yuan and Ming Beijing have been a major point of discussion in Professor Hay’s colloquium. Stretching for more than 1,000 miles, China’s Grand Canal is the oldest and largest canal ever built. Commissioned during the Wu Dynasty in 486 B.C.E., the canal underwent several stages of expansion and repair well into the reign of the Ming emperor Yongle in the 15th century. It functioned to ferry grain taxes from the south to the imperial seat in the north as well as to facilitate the shipment of goods and raw materials for the construction of temples, palaces and gardens. The Grand Canal was equally important in connecting the fairly landlocked city of Beijing to the maritime trade routes of the sea to the east. With 24 locks and some 60 bridges, the canal currently connects Beijing in the north and Hangzhou in the south.
This group of photographs was taken by Peruvian-born artist Philipp Scholz Rittermann during a 2009 trip to China. Scholz Rittermann’s images provide us with a glimpse of the contemporary manifestation of an ever-changing maritime landscape. Just as the work of Zhang Dali presented us with a view of Beijing as a city in the midst of renovation and preservation, so do these photographs attest to the transitional character of the Grand Canal’s surrounding environs. Confronted with these striking juxtapositions of rural terrain alongside urban developments and of uninhabited skyscrapers towering over village markets, one can’t help but wonder how much change this 2,500-year-old canal has seen. Philipp Scholz Rittermann’s works are in the collections of MoMA in New York and the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, among others. He lives and works in the USA.
This is the third in a series of posts surrounding Professor Jonathan Hay’s Fall 2011 Green Beijing colloquium at the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. The Green Beijing Series is organized by MA candidate Elizabeth Lee.