Skip Navigation LinksAbout Gaoyou Home Page : The History of Gaoyou
This page last updated 05/16/10

A Brief History of Gaoyou

Gaoyou City History = Gāoyóu shì Lǐshì = 高邮市历史 Say: "gao-yoh shr lee-shr"

The first record of Gaoyou’s residents resides at the Longqiu archeological site just north of Gaoyou. There, scientists have uncovered a 7,000-year-old village where farmers grew rice near an ancient river. The Chinese Government has recognized the significance of this site and given it national level protection.

Emperor Ying Zheng founded Gaoyou in 221 BC, during the Qin Dynasty, when he had a relay station for the postal courier system built on the site of today’s city. This post gave Gaoyou its name, with Gaoyou meaning “High Post”. In AD 1375, the Ming Dynasty upgraded Gaoyou’s postal services with the building of the Yucheng Post station. Located adjacent to the Grand Canal, the station made it possible for imperial special messengers to not only change horses, but also utilize boats and ferries, which were always at their disposal.

Marco Polo visited Gaoyou

 In 1275, Marco Polo  traveled to China, and spent the next 17 years traveling the country for the Emperor Kublai Khan. Polo visited Gaoyou during his travels, and wrote of Gaoyou in his book, saying, "Gaoyou is very big and prosperous. People live mainly on trade and handicraft business. Living necessities are abundant, especially the fish. There are so many wild animals and birds that it only costs one Venice corn for three pheasants, each is as big as a peacock." At the Yucheng Post Museum there is a monument to document Polo’s  visit.

Gaoyou has two ancient pagodas, the Jingtu and Zhenguosi Pagodas. The 30-meter high Jingtu Pagoda, in central Gaoyou, was constructed in AD 1612 during the Ming Dynasty, and has recently gone through an extensive renovation. The 25 meter Zhenguosi Pagoda is located on a small island on the western side of the Grand Canal. Although the 1,100+ year old Pagoda is in poor repair, the adjoining Buddhist temple has undergone an extensive renovation, and a new bridge now allows access to the island.

Gaoyou Lake and the Grand Canal

In 486 BC, The Grand Canal was constructed through Gaoyou. It finally reached its maximum length in AD 1291 stretching 1794 kilometers from Beijing in the north, to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province in the south. The canal has gone through many cycles of building, use, disrepair, and rebuilding over the centuries and has been a significant factor in the development of China. Today the canal is still a busy waterway used to transport massive quantities of gravel and other bulk goods for China’s bustling economy.

Gaoyou Lake and the Grand Canal are suspended above the surrounding plains by an extensive system of dikes. Over the centuries, breaks in the dikes have lead to massive floods, including a flood in 1931 that killed as many as 3.7 million people. On the grounds of Wenyou Tai, a historic site on the north side of the city, there is a museum dedicated to remembrance of the1931 floods featuring aerial photos of a flooded Gaoyou taken by Charles & Anna Lindbergh.

Famous Gaoyou Residents

Several notable figures in Chinese culture and history are associated with Gaoyou. Among them are Qin Shaoyou, a well-known poet of the Song Dynasty; Wang Nian Sun and Wang Yin Zhi (father and son), celebrated classics interpreters during the Qing Dynasty; Sun Yunzhu, the modern paleontologist; and Wang Chenqi, the contemporary writer.

Resources for “A Brief History of Gaoyou”

  • Dorothy Perkins, Encyclopedia of China (Checkmark Books, 2000) Pg 188
  • A book available for purchase at the China Post office in Gaoyou, Gaoyou - A Famous Historical and Cultural City Author and publisher unknown.
  • Milton W Meyer, A Concise History of China, Second Edition, Revised (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. 1994) Pgs 1-111
  • Lily Ni of Gaoyou provided information about Marco Polo’s visit to Gaoyou.
Copyright 2009 - Charles Day