city guide

West Lake - History

West Lake - History

The most significant landmark of Hangzhou, the West Lake was named as it was formed in the west of the city. Its history dates back to ancient times, when it was a water-lodged bay formed by sediment deposits of the Qiantang River. Over the years, the lake was in danger of drying up and needed to be maintained by man-made methods.

Bai Juyi and Su Dongpo, who were renowned for their outstanding literary work, were governors of Hangzhou during their respective times, and they took on the task of reviving the lake. Under the Ming Dynasty, newly appointed Hangzhou governor, Yang Mengying, also contributed to the preservation of West Lake by continuing the efforts of his predecessors.

Baidi 白堤 (Bai Dike or Bai Causeway)

Photo by Wang Jianwei

When the lake regained its former beauty, Bai had Baidi built by linking up Duanqiao (Broken Bridge) and Pinghu Qiuyue (Autumn Moon on Calm Lake) so that people could walk across the water instead of using a boat. It was named Baidi in honor of Bai Juyi's contributions. When spring returns to earth, the wind gently kisses the pretty peach flowers and whispers among the green willows that grow along the banks of Baidi.

Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846 AD), was a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). As governor of Hangzhou, Bai actively organized the construction of dams and installed water-control measures that ensured West Lake's survival as its waters were needed for agricultural irrigation. During his reign, he wrote dozens of poems about Hangzhou, many of which are now Chinese literature classics.

Distance: 2 kilometers, walking time: around 30 minutes.

Sudi 苏堤 (Su Dike or Su Causeway)

Photo by Wu Huang

Sudi begins at Nanping Mountain and ends at Qixia Mountain, stretching nearly 3 kilometers with willow trees along the banks. "Sudi Chunxiao" (Spring Morning at Sudi) ranks first among the 10 best scenic spots of West Lake. Tourists can appreciate the scenery at different angles from the six bridges on Sudi.

Su Dongpo 苏东坡 (1037-101 AD), or also known as Su Shi, was a renowned statesman, artist and literary figure during the Song Dynasty. His remarkable achievements in almost every field of traditional culture and art won him respect and admiration from the common people. When Su was governor of Hangzhou, he ordered a large-scale dredging of West Lake by constructing another causeway with the silt taken from the lake bed. Legend has it that as a reward to the workers, he invented the dish Dongpo Pork, which even today is still found on restaurant menus. This dish now has a history of over 900 years.

Distance: 2.7 kilometers, walking time: around 40 minutes.

Yanggongdi 楊公堤 (Yanggong dike or Yanggong Causeway)

In November 2002, the Hangzhou government decided to restore the area around Yanggongdi as it was turning into a wetland again. Scenic spots such as Golden Sands Bay (Jinshagang 金沙港) and Deep Turtle Pool (Wuguitan 乌龟潭) were carefully conserved and expanded such that West Lake's water surface area grew from 5.6 to 6.5 square kilometers.

Photo by Wang Jianwei

Since most of this area is a wetland, visitors can find secluded pools and wildlife that differs from other parts of the lake. The scenic area of Yangyongdi is also more tranquil than Baidi and Sudi as it is a newly opened area, and fewer people have ventured there.

Yang Mengying 杨孟瑛. Governor of Hangzhou during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), managed to gain government approval to dredge the lake which was in deteriorating conditions due to negligence after the Song Dynasty. As the lake turned into a swamp, people start to occupy these areas for agriculture and parts of the lake became private property.

Seeing this, Yang petitioned to the Ming government despite strong protests, as he wanted to reclaim the lake for the public where anyone can enjoy its natural beauty. After five years of persuasion, he was finally granted authority and funds to embark on a large-scale project of relocating residents before starting work on the lake. Yang's contributions to the lake include expanding the water surface and building another causeway named Yanggongdi at the western end.

Distance: 3 kilometers, walking time: around 50 minutes.

Baochu Pagoda 保俶塔

Located at the top of Precious Stone Hill (bao shi shan 宝石山), Baochu Pagoda is a slender, solid stone structure of seven stories. According to local legend, the pagoda was named 'bao chu', meaning 'protect Chu' in Chinese, and was built for Qian Chu 钱俶, the last king of Wuyue Kingdom (907-978 AD) where Hangzhou was its capital. Qian Chu had gone to Kaifeng where his presence has been summoned by the Emperor of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) and had gone for some time with no news of his return.

Photo by Weng Rong'er

Worried, the King's ministers decided to build a pagoda where prayers of his safety were offered. Qian Chu eventually returned after agreeing to a merger with the rising Song Dynasty to protect his kingdom from bloodshed and the ravages of war. The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdom period (907-979 AD) thus ended with the emergence of the Song Dynasty.

Today, there are dirt paths leading up Precious Stone Hill to Baochu Pagoda which is inaccessible on the inside. Visitors can take a picture of the ancient structure or enjoy a bird's eye view of West Lake.

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