Category of site: Cultural site
West Lake is situated in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in eastern China. Comprising the West Lake and the hills surrounding its three sides, West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the 9th century. It comprises numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees, as well as causeways and artificial islands. These additions have been made to improve the landscape west of the city of Hangzhou to the south of the Yangtze River.
The West Lake has impacted garden design in the rest of China as well 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 between people and nature.
The West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou was added to the World Cultural Heritage List in 2011.
The main artificial elements of the lake, two causeways and three islands, were created through repeated dredging between the 9th and 12th centuries. Since the Southern Song Dynasty (13th century), 10 poetically named scenic spots have been identified as embodying idealized, classic landscapes – that manifest the perfect fusion between man and nature. West Lake is an outstanding example of a cultural landscape that displays the ideals of Chinese landscape aesthetics, as expounded by writers and scholars in Tang and Song dynasties. The landscape of West Lake had a profound impact on the design of gardens not only in China but further out, where lakes and causeways imitated the harmony and beauty of West Lake. The key components of West Lake still allow it to inspire people to “project feelings onto the landscape”. The visual parameters of this vast landscape garden are clearly defined, rising to the ridges of the surrounding hills as viewed from Hangzhou.
The improved landscape of West Lake can reflect Buddhist ideals imported into China from India such as “Buddhist peacefulness” and “nature as paintings”, and in turn it had a major influence on landscape design in East Asia. Its causeways, islands, bridges, temples, pagodas and well defined views, were widely copied throughout China, notably in the Summer Palace at Beijing. The notion of 10 poetically named scenic places persisted for seven centuries all over China and also spread to the Korean peninsula after the 16th century, when Korean intellectuals visited West Lake.
The Tang and Song culture of demonstrating harmony between man and nature by improving the landscape to create pictures of great beauty, captured by artists and named by poets, is highly visible in the West Lake landscape, with its islands, causeways, temples, pagodas and ornamental plants.
Leifeng Pagoda was originally constructed in 975. The pagoda collapsed in 1924 but was rebuilt in 2002. It became a household name in China thanks to a popular folk tale, “The Legend of the White Snake”, a touching love story about a young man and a girl who changed from a snake. The story has been repeatedly adapted for traditional operas, modern movies and a TV series.