Public Release: 

Water management system in ancient China

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Researchers describe the hydraulic system of the ancient Liangzhu culture of China. The ancient Liangzhu culture of China represents a peak of early social and cultural development that preceded Chinese dynasties of the historical record. The Liangzhu were an agrarian society and strongly influenced by rainfall patterns. Yijie Zhuang and colleagues used archaeological samples, remote sensing data, geographic modeling, and satellite imagery to study water management in the Liangzhu cultural center in the Yangtze Delta 5,300-4,300 years ago. The authors report a series of high dams, low dams, and levees that acted as water storage reservoirs. The storage volume of the high and low reservoirs was approximately 1,498 million m3 and 5,072.4 million m3, respectively. Radiocarbon dating of grassy plants and charcoal from the dams and a levee indicate that the high dams were constructed around 5,200-4,800 years ago, whereas the low dams and levees were built around 5,000-4,800 years ago. The authors estimate that it took 3,000 people working over 8 years to move approximately 2.88 million m3 of earth to build the ancient dams. Additionally, a network of artificial canals, ditches, and moats totaling 30 km in length supplemented natural river channels inside and surrounding Liangzhu. According to the authors, the water management system at Liangzhu likely represents one of the largest hydraulic engineering projects in the ancient world.

Article #17-10516: "Earliest hydraulic enterprise in China, 5,100 years ago," by Bin Liu et al.

MEDIA CONTACT: Yijie Zhuang, University College London, UNITED KINGDOM; tel: +44-20-7679-1539; e-mail: <>


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