The Lingqu Canal, also known as Ling Canal or Magic Canal, is located in Xing'an County, near Guilin, with an overall length of 36.4 kilometers (22.6 miles). As the oldest canal all around the world, it is evidence of China's innovative technologies in ancient times. The canal connects the Xiang River and Li River, and consequently links the Yangtze River and Pearl River systems, creating a critical waterborne transportation hub. Meanwhile, it plays an important role in terms of irrigation. Lingqu Canal along with Zhengguo Canal in Shaanxi Province and Dujiangyan Irrigation System in Sichuan Province are the "three great water conservancy projects of ancient China".
In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty from 221 to 207 BC, unified the six kingdoms and established a new country. In order to crack down on the Baiyue Tribe in south China, he dispatched 500,000 troops to attack it. However, the army was beaten back and stationed on Yuecheng Mountain in the northeast of Guangxi. The huge mountain obstructed the transportation of vital military supplies. To overcome this, Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of the Lingqu Canal in order to create an efficient supply route. Shi Lu, the chief designer, led 100,000 soldiers to build the cross-mountain canal and the project was completed in 214 BC. Shortly afterward, Baiyue was conquered, thereby completing the unification of the Qin Empire.
The main design feature of the Lingqu Canal was to elevate water level of the Xiang River by using Huazui, a weir in the shape of a plowshare. The weir further diverts one stream, today's south canal, into the upper branch of the Li River and directs another larger stream through a canal, today's north canal, which winds into the Xiang River. Huazui is surrounded by stone dikes on three sides and a Small Balance on one side. The Small Balance, as a segment of the embankment of the south canal, is about 124 meters (407 feet) long. Besides, there is a Big Balance, which is around 380 meters (1,247 feet) long and makes a segment of the embankment of the north canal. The Big Balance and the Small Balance form a V-shaped diversion dam and ease the impacts of water flow. In the event of the water level falling, they can feed water into the canal to elevate the level and ensure the smooth progress of ships. On the contrary, when water level rises, the dam can divert water into the Xiang River, protecting humans and crops from being affected by floods. The Big Balance and the Small Balance regulate water flows efficiently, that is why they are called balances. Another highlight is the 36 Doumens, namely, ancient locks. As the earliest lock ever created, Doumen is praised as the "ancestor of locks" and is used to raise and lower water levels to facilitate navigation.
First built for military purposes and later becoming a civilian waterway, Lingqu Canal has great cultural importance. To remember the four brilliant government officials who made a great contribution to the construction and renovation of this canal, the Four Wise Men Shrine was built. The four men include: Shi Lu, the designer and project leader of Lingqu Canal; Ma Yuan, a general in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) who dredged the canal to improve its shipping capacity; and local governors Li Bo and Yu Mengwei in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) who reinforced the dikes and perfected the infrastructures. In addition, there is a Square of Qin Culture, where a series of stone replicas of the weights and coins issued after the unification of Qin Empire can be seen. In the center of the square stands a pot with two looped handles in the form of dragons carved from stone. It is said that after Shi Lu succeeded in building the canal, Qin Shi Huang bestowed his wine pot on Shi Lu and the stone pot in the square commemorates this event.
Along the 1km-long (1,000-yard) banks of the canal in Xing’an County formed a Water Street Scenic Area. The street is full of Qin and Han styles, covering the ancient-style bridges, stone carvings, and pavilions. Visitors can have a totally enjoyable Qin & Han cultural trip along the street.