Water management was so important in ancient China that the ‘Ministry of Water’ reported directly to the emperor. Floods and draughts were seen as reactions by heaven to actions taken on Earth; repeated natural disasters often led to uprisings against the emperor of the day. It is no surprise, therefore, that modern China is networked with water management projects, such as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. The country has, accordingly, developed a history of inland navigation.

Water management projects in China not only helped regulate rivers but also aided navigation. In the late 1970s, inland waterways in China carried less than 150 million tonnes but by 2019, according to the World Bank, the volume of goods moved by river in China reached almost four billion tonnes. China today has the largest inland navigation fleet in the world, as well as some of the busiest ports.

Five ports in China have an annual tonnage of greater than one million twenty equipment units (TEU). The port of Shanghai alone moves 3.8 million TEU. In Eastern China, the port of Ningbo moves 2.6 million TEU; the Southern port of Guangzhou moves 1.9 million TEU; the Northern ports of Qingdao and Tianjin move 1.8 and 1.5 million TEU, respectively.

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