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West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou

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West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou

Comment from the World Heritage Committee

Since the 9th century, the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou, consisting of the West Lake and its surrounding hills, has inspired a large number of men of letters, scholars and artists. It is comprised of numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees, as well as causeways and artificial islands, which combine to add more charm to the landscape of Hangzhou on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The West Lake also generates wide implications for the garden design in China as well as other countries such as Japan and Korea over the centuries, and bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealized fusion of man and nature.

Introduction

Situated to the west of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, the West Lake gains a worldwide reputation for its picturesque lakes and hills as well as a myriad of places of interest, commonly hailed as the paradise on earth, holding a fascination to visitors from around the world.

It is known to many that the West Lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides. Since ancient times, it has been well acclaimed for its beauty, inviting tributes from men of letters in their artworks. The large number of ancient temples, pagodas, pavilions, terraces, halls, bridges and causeways just live side by side in harmony with the surrounding natural landscape, with one adding more charm to another. Since the Southern Song Dynasty, the Ten Scenes of the West Lake have been regarded as a perfect example of the oneness between man and nature. As a cultural landscape, it embodies the ancient Chinese aesthetic standards in its every single detail, exerting a profound influence on the Chinese garden design. The kernel of its culture lies in that it sheds light on the philosophy of life.

The natural landscape of the waters and hills in the West Lake is known for its unique charms, featuring a perfect fusion of the lake and the extending hills. The low-rise hills come in the shape of a horse hoof, which encompasses the West Lake on its southern, western and northern sides. The extending hills just emerge into the city skyline, forming a compelling picture characterized by tranquility. The enticing hills and lake have inspired a multitude of men of letters in history and become important themes for the Chinese ink and wash paintings. For generations, the landscape here has invited tributes from poets of various dynasties in their literary works. In this sense, the landscape of West Lake is thought to be rich in cultural implications.

The original water of the West Lake used to be a shallow bay that was connected with Qiantang River. As continuously eroded by the sands coming from the Yangtze River and Qiantang River, it gradually evolved into a lagoon. It plays a major role in the water supply of the urban area, the regulation of the ecosystem as well as the leisure activities of the local people. It serves as a scientific example of how to achieve a perfect combination of city location, urban development and the ecosystem. The lake is divided into five areas by Gushan Hill (the Lonely Hill), Bai Causeway (the White Causeway) and Su Causeway. The tranquil and limpid lake water serves to connect the lake and the surrounding cultural landscape.

The extending hills surrounding the West Lake are referred to as folding hills, which are formed by the tectonic movement. The towering hills constitute not only a picturesque natural landscape but also a vital water source of the West Lake. For over two thousand years, the ambient hills of the West Lake have been further developed with the accelerated urbanization on the eastern side of the lake, therefore becoming hot venues for cultural and religious activities. These events hold an appeal to men of letters who favor Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. For this reason, the hills here are given rich cultural implications, constituting an integral part of the West Lake Cultural Landscape.
The City of Hangzhou, nestling by the picturesque lake and hills, live side by side in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. The oneness of the lake, hills and the whole city symbolizes the harmony between man and nature. Besides, this is also consistent with the ideal landscape long cherished by the men of letters. Therefore, the West Lake has been revered as a shinny example for the embodiment of the aesthetic values of the Chinese paintings and the perfect combination of nature and human environment, and carried forward for thousands of years.

The layout of the West Lake features two causeways and three islands, consisting of Bai Causeway, Su Causeway, Xiaoying Isle, Huxin Isle, Ruangong Pier and the water area of the lake. Such a layout, in which causeways are used to divide the water area into different areas, is considered as an approach of much influence in the traditional Chinese landscape design. Meanwhile, such a layout takes in the unique causeway design and develops its own landscape featuring the local characteristics.

Su Causeway is thought to be built by Su Shi, a celebrated statesman and poet of the Northern Song Dynasty, extending from the foot of Nanping Hill in the south and all the way to the North Hill in the north, altogether 2797 meters. Reposing on the West Lake, it houses six stone single-arch bridges that can be dated back to the Northern Song Dynasty. Bai Causeway was built by Bai Juyi, a renowned poet of the Tang Dynasty, when he served as a local government official. The causeway extends 987 meters from the east to the west. Its Broken Bridge is known as a famed scenic spot in the West Lake. Xiaoying Isle on the south of the lake comes in the shape of the Chinese character tian, which means the paddy field, and is dotted with pavilions, palaces, fragrant flowers and verdant trees. Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon on the isle is among the best-known scenes on the West Lake. Huxin Isle on the northern side of the lake comes in the shape of a circle. The pavilions and palaces of the Qing Dynasty on the isle just make you feel as if you were in a paradise on earth, too wonderful to be true. Having a stroll on the isle during the nighttime, you will be able to purify your heart by relating yourself to the tranquil sky and water surface of the lake. Ruangong Pier is in the outer area of the West Lake, covered with verdant trees and home to wild bird species.

Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring is thought to top the ten most renowned scenes of the West Lake. It is a causeway landscape in which Su Causeway reposes on the lake and is dotted with red peach blossoms and green willows. The causeway enjoys a reputation for its alternative layout of peach blossoms and willows, which are scattered around on the six bridges. When the dawn comes in spring and the mist still lingers on the lake, the willows on the causeway will dance slightly with the breezes and the peach blossoms will contend to showcase their best charm, combining to create a picture that will never fail to attract any visitors. The landscape of the West Lake just unfolds in front of you, including such scenes as Xiaoying Isle, Baochu Pagoda and Dingjia Hill. The extending hills tower amid the waters and mist, making you feel as if you were in a fairyland. For this reason, Su Causeway is thought to be the most gorgeous scene among all the scenic spots of the West Lake. Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer features the courtyards by the lake, which showcases its exceptional charm in summer. The blossoming lotuses and their fragrance just add more charm to the lake and the hills, thought to be rich in aesthetic values upheld in the traditional Chinese culture.

Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn is one of the places on the northern bank of the West Lake where you can have a panoramic view over the lake. When it comes to the Mid-Autumn Festival, it is thought to be the perfect place for you to appreciate the poetic and picturesque West Lake under the moon-lit sky. When the moon is high on the sky, you will be able to find that the moon and the lake is combined as a oneness. Enveloped in the moonlight, you would feel as if you were in a fairyland on the moon. Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter is known for its snow scene in winter. When the sun casts its glow over the lake after a snow, you will be able to find that the fallen snows are glistening like silvers in the sunshine. The frozen lake just resembles an ink stone, with the obvious division of black and white. Visitors would marvel at such a scene at every turn. Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian, the leading characters of the Legend of Madame White Snake are thought to meet each other here on the Broken Bridge. For this reason, the Broken Bridge has become a household name and a symbol of love today.

Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon is a scene for appreciating the moon and sheds light on Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of life. The three ponds were originally referred to as three pagodas built in the Northern Song Dynasty, which served as the signs for the prohibition of planting trees here. Under the moon-lit sky, the three pagodas, the lake and the moon just add more charm to one another and combine to create a landscape that will never fail to attract any visitors. The scenery of isles within the lake and lakes within the isles stands unrivaled elsewhere. Besides, such traditional plants as the green willows, lotuses, red maple leaves and cotton roses live side by side in harmony with the pavilions and palaces, creating an enticing picture that never loses its charm all the year round. Lighting a candle in a moon-lit night here, you will be able to truly have a glimpse of the oneness of the moon on the sky, the moon on the lake surface, the moon hung over the pagoda and the moon in your heart. This scene is thought to be the representative of water garden design in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and the most typical scene of the West Lake.

Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond is a scene featuring the combination of rockery, pond and plants in the private residence, where you will be able to experience the vitality of nature. Orioles Singing in the Willows embraces the theme of appreciating the willow grove on the lakeside. Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds features the scene of Leifeng Pagoda towering to the sky amid the extending hills against the sunset. Evening Bell Ringing at the Nanping Hill is characterized by the echoing sound of the bell in Jingci Temple at the northern foot of Nanping Hill.

Since ancient times, the West Lake and its surrounding scenic areas are home to a wealth of cultural relics that bear the traces of the traditional Chinese culture, which constitute the cultural appeal of the landscape.

Buddhism has its root in the West Lake for quite a long time. In the Wuyue Kingdom Period, the kings were known to be devout followers of Buddhism. They erected a large number of temples and pagodas around the West Lake, and excavated stone shrines and Buddhist statues in Yanxia Cave, Shiwu Cave and Feilai Peak, contributing to Hangzhou’s fame as a land of Buddhist culture in southeast China. Baochu Pagoda on Baoshi Hill is thought to be a typical Buddhist structure on the West Lake area. The pagoda resembles a beautiful lady when looked as a whole. Liuhe Pagoda by Qiantang River is one of the representative existing ancient pagodas in China, which serves as a symbol of harmony in every corner of the country. It was originally built for the purpose of flood prevention and control during the Wuyue Kingdom Period. Cijing Temple is a Buddhist architectural ensemble initially built in the Wuyue Kingdom Period, known to top all the 300 temples around the West Lake. It stands as a witness to Hangzhou’s reputation as a land of Buddhist culture in southeast China between the 10th and the 13th century. Lingyin Temple was originally built in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, known to be the earliest Buddhist architectural ensemble in Hangzhou. Today, it is still an important venue for Buddhist activities in the coastal areas in southeastern China. Feilai Peak outside Lingyin Temple stands out among all the sceneries for its Buddhist statues of the Yuan Dynasty, enjoying a position of influence in the history of China’s stone inscriptions.

Confucianism is an integral part of the West Lake Cultural Landscape. The ideas of filial piety and loyalty valued in Confucianism are embodied in the West Lake. In the past, a stress is laid on literary development, which gave rise to the correspondent education system that embraced academy at its core. Such culture and tradition are carried in every single detail of the West Lake. The Tomb of Yue Fei is the place where people worship and offer sacrifices to the national hero Yue Fei, a household name in China and a model of traditional Chinese values. For this reason, it has become an important base for moral education, exerting a profound influence on the future generations of the Chinese people. Wenlan Palace is China’s only library that houses the Complete Library in Four Sections, which was composed in the Qing Dynasty. It stands as a testimony to the time-honored library culture in China.

Taoism is a constituent part of the West Lake Cultural Landscape. On the northern and southern sides of the West Lake there are a number of hills that are thought to be hot tourist destination for Taoists. Currently, they house a multitude of cultural relics that bear the traces of Taoism, among which, the most typical one is Baopu Taoist Temple. It is said that Ge Hong, a celebrated Taoist of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, used to pursue longevity pills here. Besides, Chenghuang Hill, Ziyang Hill and Yuhuang Hill are also home to major Taoist temples.

Hangzhou used to be the capital city of Wuyue Kingdom and the Southern Song Dynasty. Today, a profusion of historical remains are found in here, including the remains of Qiantang Gate, which used to be the west gate of Hangzhou between the 12th and 20th century and one of three gates by the lake back in the Southern Song Dynasty. Qingxing Palace used to be the resting place for emperors of the Qing Dynasty during their stay in the West Lake.

The West Lake has inspired men of letters of successive dynasties in history, known for the rich artistic works and legends passed down from generation to generation. Lin Bu, a celebrated poet who sought seclusion from the outside world in the Northern Song Dynasty, used to build a thatched house on Gushan Hill around the West Lake and lived there for over 20 years. Every day, he would compose poems, draw paintings, plant plum blossoms and feed cranes. He was known to regard plum blossoms as his wife and cranes his sons. In modern times, Sun Yat-sen, Lin Yutang, Liu Yazi and Yu Dafu, who were known to the Chinese as famous historic figures, all used to live by the West Lake. Master Hongyi, an eminent monk, initiated monkhood by the West Lake. In 1928, an art conservatory was established by the West Lake, which later became a gathering place of excellent artists. At that time, the West Lake was known as one most of centers for the development of arts. Xileng Seal Society, which is known as the earliest nationwide academic group for the study of seal inscriptions, is the gathering place of China’s most prestigious calligraphers and seal sculptors. The site of the society consists of tranquil gardens, quiet and secluded. The cultural landscape here will never fail to attract any visitors.

Hangzhou is thought to be the cradle of Chinese tea culture. The history of tea cultivation can be dated back to the Eastern Jin Dynasty. Around the 8th century, the records of tea cultivation and tea varieties were found in The Classic of Tea. Master Cai, an eminent monk of the Northern Song Dynasty, used to reside in Longjingshou Temple on the South Hill, which gave rise to the rising fame of longjing tea. Since the Ming and Qing Dynasties, longjing has evolved into the best green tea in the world. The area on Fenghuang Peak has been a place of interest for men of letters and refined scholars to have a sip of tea and exchange views on Zen Buddhism since the 11th century. They regarded tea drinking as a spiritual enjoyment, and contemplated over themselves to achieve better selves. For this reason, tea drinking becomes a way for people to integrate themselves with nature. By doing this, they can achieve a perfect oneness of man and nature. Today, tea culture has become an integral part of the West Lake.