Precious Belt Bridge (Bao Dai Qiao). [Photo by Bruce Connolly/chinadaily.com.cn]
Visiting Shanghai in 1996, I looked down from the Oriental Pearl Television Tower to where Suzhou Creek entered the Huangpu River. So many barges were navigating or berthed along this narrow channel. Intrigued I poured over maps of the lower Yangtze River basin that revealed a dense network of waterways interlacing and connecting with Lake Tai, the Yangtze and the Grand Canal running north from Hangzhou past Suzhou. Indeed the presence of so much water and saturated ground was historically problematic, if not impossible, for conventional road construction. For several millennium waterways were the principal option for travel in much of eastern China. Towns well-connected by water boomed. There were also bountiful harvests of rice and fish.