The West Lake history and culture, China Culture

"Just as there is paradise in heaven, ther are Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth."


If you arrive by airplane, before the touchdown you must have already been pleasantly surprised to see a fascinating picture, in which the West Lake looks like a sparkling pearl imbedded in between a blue smudge of mountains and a metropolitan city, with the zigzagging Qiantang River floating by like a silver ribbon.


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the West Lake has all along been extolled as a sparkling pearl. Legend has it that the lake used to be an auspicious pearl hewn into its sparkling shape by the Jade Dragon and the Golden Phoenix but it was later stolen by the Mother Queen of the West. When Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix scrambled with the Mother Queen, this pearl accidentally fell onto a land that was known as Hangzhou.

The West Lake history and culture

This legend, which is certainly worlds apart from true history, sheds precious light on the fact that the West Lake is a treasure that the labouring people of Hangzhou have brought into shape through numerous generations of hard labour.


The mention of the Tale of the white Snake in the foregoing indicates that for those who know something about Chinese culture, the West Lake is something of a dream. Apart from its dream-like beauty, the West Lake is also associated with so many other dream-like tales, such as the well-known Butterfly Lovers, the Legends about Lord Ji, the Story about Li Huiniang, as well as legends about such famous men of letters as Ge Hong, Lin Hejing, and Wu Changshuo. Just as Yu Qiuyu, a well-known prose writer, has it, the West Lake is a " lake that belongs to culture".




One of the major attractions in West Lake: Three Pools Mirroring the Moon islandIn middle of the Tang Dynasty Zhenyuan era (785-804), poet Bai Juyi came to Hangzhou as governor. Already an accomplished poet, his deeds at Hangzhou made him a great governor. He realised that the farmland nearby depended on the water of West Lake, but due to negligence of former governors, the old dyke had collapsed, the water level of West Lake dried out, and the local farmers suffered severe drought. He ordered the construction of a stronger and taller dyke, with a dam to control the flow of water, and thus solved the drought problem. The livelihood of local people of Hangzhou improved over the following years. Now that Bai Juji had more leisure time to enjoy the beauty of West Lake, he visited West Lake almost every day. He ordered the construction of a causeway connecting the Broken Bridge with the Solitary Hill, to facilitate walking on foot, instead of depending on boat. Then he planted peach trees and willows trees along the dyke, making it a beautiful landmark of West Lake. This causeway was later named Bai Di Causeway in Bai Juyi's honour.


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Over two hundred years later, in the beginning of Song Dynasty's Yuanyou era (1086-1094), another great poet, Su Shi (Su Dongpo), came to Hangzhou as governor. By that time, the farmers suffered drought again, due to overgrowth of the weeds at the bottom of the lake clogging the irrigation ducts. He ordered dredging of the lake and piled up all the mud into another causeway, in the style of Bai Causeway, but much wider and nearly three times as long, he also planted willow trees along its banks. This causeway was later named after him as the Su Causeway. There are six bridges along the 2.6 km Su Causeway. "Spring Dawn on the Su Causeway" is one of the attractions at the West Lake.


West Lake in culture


Classical Chinese buildings inside the West LakeThe West Lake is said to be the incarnation of Xi Shi, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. Hence, since ancient times, the West Lake was associated with a large number of romatic poets, profound philosophers, national heroes and heroines.


Eastern Jin Dynasty philosopher Ge Hong practiced Taoism in the Ge Mountain, and wrote his great philosophical work: Bao Pu Zhi.
Tang Dynasty poet Luo Binwang reclused in Lingyin Temple
Tang Dynasty poet-governor Bai Juyi built the first causeway, which the Bai Causeway.
Song Dynasty poet-governor Su Dongpo, dredged the lake and built up the Su Causeway, made it into another beautiful landmark of West Lake. He also invented a special recipe for preparing pork: the Dongpo Pork. Dongpo Pork is on the menu of every restaurant in Hangzhou
Song Dynasty national hero Yue Fei was buried near the West Lake


Lotus in the Breeze at the Winding CourtyardThe great Ming Dynasty essayist Zhang Dai, wrote a number great essays about the West Lake in Reminiscence and Dream of Tao'an, and a whole book: Search for West Lake in Dreams.

The West Lake has been famous for its exquisite beauty for more than one thousand years. Hangzhou will be the site for the 2006 World Leisure Expo.


Originally a shallow sea inlet, due to the laying down of silt this six square kilometres (1483 acres) of water became the famous West Lake. With an average depth of just five feet the lake comprises five distinct sections. The largest part is known as the Outer Lake and it is bounded by the North Inner Lake, Yuehu Lake, West Inner Lake and Lesser South Lake. Held in the embrace of hilly peaks on three sides, this water wonderland has been an attraction for centuries and it is small wonder that it was a favourite imperial retreat. The lake and its environs have all the elements of a traditional Chinese garden but on a grand scale. The natural setting of strangely shaped peaks, serene forests and springs, dense foliage and a myriad of blossoms especially in springtime are enhanced by a treasury of sculpture and architectural features. Whatever the season, the panorama is pleasing to the eye and the nuances of light shade together with the moods of the weather present an ever-changing picture that justifiably has been described as 'intoxicating'.


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A number of specific features can be singled out as worthy of particular note. To the south of centre of the Outer Lake is a man made island known as the Island of Little Oceans, that encloses four small lakes. From here one can view the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon when at night candles are lit in stone lanterns jutting out of the water thus creating the impression of the reflections of three moons. The scene is truly magical on the night of the Autumn Moon Festival. Solitary Hill Island lies between the Outer Lake and the north Inner Lake and is an ideal spot from which to admire the vista. The nearby Two Peaks Embracing the Sky is another impressive sight, especially when crossing the lake by boat.


Near to the lake can be found the Ling Yin Temple in its woodland setting near to Fei Lai Feng (Peak Flown From Afar). Legend has it that this limestone peak flew from India where it had formed part of a holy mountain. These are of particular interest to Buddhists and those who have a love of sculpture and art. The Mausoleum of General Yue Fei is a monument to the patriot who was murdered in 1141 at the behest of his archrival Qin Hui, the Song prime minister. These buildings like others in the vicinity of the lake such as the slender Six Harmonies Pagoda add to the calm and beauty of their surroundings.


Ten Scenes of West Lake


View of the West Lake from a row boatThe Ten Scenes of West Lake, each marked by a stela with the name written in the calligraphy of the Emperor Qianlong Emperor, are:


Spring Dawn on the Su Causeway
Orioles Singing in the Willows
Viewing Fish at Flower Pond
Winery Yard and Lotus Pool
Evening Bell Ringing at the Nanping Hill
Autumn Moon over the Calm Lake
Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow
Three Pools Mirroring the Moon
Lingering Snow on Broken Bridge
Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds
The "Jungfrau of West Lake"


Other attractions


Yue Fei Memorial HallOther attractions include:


Yue-Wang Miao, the tomb and memorial hall to Yue Fei.
Lingyin Temple, a Buddhist monastory and surrounding hills and gardens.
Longjing tea farms, a rea renowned for the quality of its tea leaves.
Galloping Tiger Spring, a spring famous for its water.
Tomb of Su Xiao Xiao, a famous courtesan.
Tomb of Wu Song, famous for slaying a tiger; destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and rebuilt in 2004

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