Hangzhou, one of the seven ancient capitals of China, was inhabited by human beings as early as 8,000 years ago, which is proved by the cross-lake bridge site found in Xiaoshan District. And the Liangzhu culture, which can be dated back to 5,000 years ago, is crowned as the “Dawn of Civilization”. Ever since Qin Dynasty when it was set up as a county, Hangzhou has enjoyed a history of over 2,200 years. It has ever been the capital of Wuyue State and Southern Song Dynasty, and has won the reputation of “Heaven on Earth”. It was even hailed as the “World’s Most Beautiful City” by Marco Polo after his visit to China in the Yuan Dynasty.
Now, it is the capital and largest city of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China and the center of the Hangzhou Metropolitan Area. As a core city of the Yangtze River Delta, it has a position on the Hangzhou Bay 180 kilometers southwest of Shanghai that gives it economic power. And it has been one of the most renowned and prosperous cities of China for much of the last 1,000 years, due in part to its beautiful natural scenery.
Hangzhou was founded during the Qin Dynasty as Qiantang County. In AD 589, the city was renamed “Hangzhou”, literally meaning “River-ferrying Prefecture”. It became the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period.
Moving forward to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), the city became a renowned economic and cultural center for the entire country. Later when the Southern Song Dynasty (1279-1368) moved its regime southward, the city was nominated as its capital and lasted as such for 152 years. The city reached its zenith at this time as the biggest international trade center and the nation’s political and cultural center. It was also among the most populous cities in the world.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1644, 1616-1911), Hangzhou continued to grow and prosper from its local industries, especially silk weaving, and became the silk center for all of China.
After the empire crumbled, Hangzhou lost economic status to Shanghai. Later on, the city was damaged in the internal warfare and it has been on the rebound since the opening up of China in the 20th Century. Increasing foreign investment and a cluster of some of China’s most successful private enterprises have made it once again one of the most prosperous cities in China.
South End of the Grand Canal
The Grand Canal, originating in Beijing, is extended to Hangzhou, linking the city to the most profitable trading route in China. As the last stop on the Grand Canal, Hangzhou enjoys great advantage for economic boom and social prosperity.
The canal in Hangzhou was first built more than 2,200 years ago to connect Jiaxing and Hangzhou, and it was expanded in the Han Dynasty to be further connected with Suzhou in Jiangsu Province. In the Southern Song Dynasty when the emperor and his court retreated and moved from the capital to Hangzhou, the canal in this area suddenly got much busier and this part of the city also became a major traffic hub and distribution center.
Ships from all over the country came down the Grand Canal and business boomed along the street. All kinds of shops opened, selling food and snakes, tea, rice, alcohol, shipping supplies and other commodities. Visitors can still get a suggestion of the bustle and prosperity of the old days. The street is still filled with many shops, quite a few in the old style of architecture. Today, ships are not allowed in the narrow Small River, but ships carrying coal, sand and construction materials are constantly moving south along the wider Grand Canal just five minutes from the street. The Grand Canal, encapsulating how lower-class workers and small vendors lived and worked, displays part of the city’s history and culture.
West Lake: World-renowned Tourism Attraction
The West Lake is undoubtedly the most renowned feature of Hangzhou, noted for the scenic beauty that blends naturally with many famous historical and cultural sites. In classical poems, the West Lake was alluded to as a great beauty. It is said to be the incarnation of Xi Shi, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. The lake associated with a large number of romantic poets, profound philosophers, national heroes and heroines. It was also the retreat for many Chinese writers of the past.
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. 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”.
Qinghefang Ancient Street: Recording the History of Hangzhou
At the foot of Wu Mountain in south Hangzhou situates the Qinghefang Ancient Street, which is the only well-preserved part of the ancient city, an epitome of the time-honored Hangzhou. It has been the most flourished street in the city since the ancient time. During the Southern Song Dynasty, it was the center of politics, culture and commerce, with lots of shops, restaurants and teahouses.
After so many years, Qinghefang Ancient Street is still a prosperous business area. Many famous century-old shops are located here, such as Wangxingji Fan Store, Zhangxiaoquan Scissors, Wanlong Ham Stack, Huqingyutang Pharmacy, Baohetang Pharmacy, Zhuangyuan House, Wangruixing, Yiyuanjindian, Jingyangguan and Sheep Soup Restaurant among others. The redeveloped Qinghefang Ancient Street now exudes an atmosphere of its past and boasts its street-culture, entertainment, commerce and the tours that are the attention of its citizens and visitors at home and abroad.
Capital of Silk
When it comes to China, most people would think of silk, and it’s even more so in Hangzhou, where people were weaving silk as far back as 4,000 years ago. Revered in China as the “colorful clouds in the sky”, Hangzhou silk is famous for its soft texture, shiny color, and fine, smooth feel. Early in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), Hangzhou silk was introduced to foreign countries via the Silk Road. Today the city produces a wide variety of silk products that sell well on both domestic and international markets, and the silk industry has greatly fueled the economic growth of the city. A visit to the city today is a great way to learn more about silk, and to pick up some reasonably priced, high quality silk products at the same time.
Located at the central area of Hangzhou City, the Silk Town is the largest of its kind in China. It is a pedestrian street several hundred meters long, with buildings in the traditional style. More than 600 silk enterprises have stores and sales outlets here. The salesclerks offer satisfying service and take the initiative to introduce their silk caps, ties, pajamas, handicrafts, and other items -- some traditional, some stylish -- all in beautiful designs and colors and reasonably priced. The Silk Town helps wholesale businessmen know the trends of the silk market and provides tourists with inexpensive and fine- quality silk clothing with a Chinese flavor. It is also a museum, where people can learn about the history of silk.