|West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|Criteria||ii, iii, vi|
|Inscription||2011 (35th Session)|
West Lake or Xī Hú (Chinese: 西湖; literally "West Lake") is a freshwater lake located in the historic area of Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China. The lake is divided by the causeways of Sū Dī (苏提 / 蘇堤), Bái Dī (白堤), and Yánggōng Dī (杨公堤 / 楊公堤). There are numerous temples, pagodas, gardens, and artificial islands within the lake.
West Lake has influenced poets and painters throughout the ages for its natural beauty and historical relics, and it has been among the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese garden designers, as evidenced by the impact it had on various Chinese classical gardens. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, and was described as having "influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries" and as reflecting "an idealized fusion between humans and nature."
|Basin countries||People's Republic of China|
|Surface area||6.5 km2 (2.5 sq mi)|
|Average depth||2.27 m (7.4 ft)|
There are dozens of lakes called West Lake worldwide, but "West Lake" usually refers to the Hangzhou West Lake, which is located in the western area of Hangzhou City. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The average depth of West Lake is 3 meters, and the capacity is about 14,290,000 cubic meters. The lake is divided by Gu Shan, Bai, Su and Yanggong Causeways into five areas. Ordered by their areas, they are Outer West Lake (外西湖), West Inner Lake (西里湖, or 后西湖, or 后湖), North Inner Lake (北里湖 or 里西湖), Little South Lake (小南湖 or 南湖) and Yue Lake (岳湖). "Outer West Lake" is the largest. "Gu Shan" or Gu Hill is the largest natural island in the lake. Su & Bai Causeways run across the lake. Three small man-made islands, "Xiao Ying Zhou" (小瀛洲), "Hu Xin Ting" (湖心亭), and "Ruan Gong Dun" (阮公墩) lie in the center of Outer West Lake. Thus, the basic layout is "one hill, two causeways, three islands, and five lakes"
West Lake is not only famous for its picturesque landscape, it is also associated with many scholars, national heroes and revolutionary martyrs, thus embracing many aspects of Chinese culture. In addition, many ancient buildings, stone caves and engraved tablets in surrounding areas are among the most cherished national treasures of China, with significant artistic value.
The earliest name for West Lake was "Wulin Water" (武林水). In the Book of Han, the "Geography Column" section says, "Qiantang, affiliated to west governor general. Wulin mountain is the origin of Wulin water. Runs east into the sea, covering 830 Chinese miles." Its former names include "Qian Water", "Qiantang Lake", "Mingsheng Lake", "Jinniu Lake", "Shihan Lake", "Shang Lake", "Lianyan Lake", "Fangsheng Pond", "Xizi Lake", "Gaoshi Lake", "Xiling Lake", "Meiren Lake", "Xianzhe Lake", "Mingyue Lake", and etc. But only two names were widely accepted in history and recorded in historical documents. One is "Qiantang Lake", due to the fact that Hangzhou was called "Qiantang" in ancient times. The other name is "West Lake", due to the lake being west of the city. The name "West Lake" first appeared in two poems of Bai Juyi, "Bestowed on guests as returning from West Lake in the evening and looking back to Gushan Temple" (西湖晚歸回望孤山寺贈諸客) and "On the returning boat to Hangzhou" (杭州回舫). Since North Song Dynasty, most poems and articles of scholars used the name "West Lake", while the name "Qiantang Lake" was gradually deprecated. "The request of dredging West Lake" written by Su Shi was the first time that "West Lake" appeared in an official document.
Qin Dynasty 
Over 2,000 years ago, West Lake was still a part of Qiantang River. Due to soil sedimentation, the feet of the surrounding mountains on north and south sides of the lake, Wu Mountain and Baoshi Mountain gradually stretched to form shoal heads. Later these sand spits slowly merged to into a sandbank, to which a lagoon emerged to the west: this was the old West Lake, of the Qin and Han dynastic eras. "West Lake Dream Searching" (西湖夢尋) written by Zhang Dai (張岱) recorded, "Big Stone Buddhist Temple. According to ancient history, Qin Shi Huang traveled east into the sea, and moored the boat to this stone." The Big Stone Buddhist Temple referred to was located at Baoshi Mountain, north of the West Lake. These days the "Qin Shi Huang mooring stone" can still be seen.
Sui Dynasty 
The short lived Sui Dynasty was known for its great engineering works which it accomplished during its brief existence. After Daye 6th year (610), Sui Dynasty, the Jiangnan Canal was opened and connected to the North Canal. Thus, five major rivers of China, namely the Hai River, Yellow River, Huai River, Yangtze River, and Qiantang River all were connected: this facilitated transportation to and from Hangzhou and thus boosted both its own and general economic development. Tourism in Hangzhou also started to boom.
Tang Dynasty 
In the Tang Dynasty, West Lake had an area of roughly 10.8 square kilometers. The western and southern parts of the lake all extended to the foot of West Hill. The northeastern part stretched to Wulin Gate area. Pilgrims could take the boat to the hill-foot and walk up to the hill to worship. Do to the ongoing aggradation of the lake, together with the virtual lack of any hydraulic projects, in those days, the lake would flood after heavy rains and dry up during long droughts.
In September, Jianzhong 2nd year (781), Li Mi (李泌) was appointed governor of Hangzhou. In order to supply fresh water, he creatively induced the water into the city. He ordered six wells dug in populous areas like Qiantang Gate and Yongjin Gate, and set up a "shadow conduit" (underground clay and bamboo pipes) to introduce lake water into the city. The six wells have long vanished today. The only existing relic from that time is the Xiangguo Well, located west of Jinting Bridge on Jiefang Rd. The other five wells were Xi Well (to west of Xiangguo Well), Fang Well (or Four-eyed Well), Jinniu Well (northwest of Xi Well), Baigui Well (west of Longxiang Bridge), and Xiaofang Well (or Six-eyed Well, inside Qiantang Gate, now Xiaoche Bridge area).
In the middle of the Tang Dynasty Zhenyuan era (785-804), poet and government official Bai Juyi (白居易) was appointed governor of Hangzhou. Already an accomplished and famous poet, his deeds at Hangzhou made him a great governor. He realised that the farmland nearby depended on the water of Xī Hú, but due to the negligence of previous governors, the old dyke had collapsed, and the lake so dried out that the local farmers were suffering from severe drought. He ordered the construction of a stronger and taller dyke, with a dam to control the flow of water, and thus providing water for irrigation and so mitigating the drought problem. The livelihood of local people of Hangzhou improved over the following years. Bai Juyi used his leisure time to enjoy the beauty of Xī Hú, visiting the lake almost every day. He ordered the construction of a causeway to allow walking on foot, instead of requiring the services of a boat. A causeway, the Baisha Causeway, was later named Bai Causeway (白堤) in Bai Juyi's honour, but the original Bai Causeway was lost.
Five Dynasties 
The most prominent eras in Hangzhou's development history, Wuyue Kingdom and Southern Song Dynasty, had great impacts on West Lake. The comprehensive development and fundamental layout of West Lake occurred in these two Dynasties. During Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, Wuyue Kingdom (907-960) made Hangzhou its capital. It facilitated the transportation to coastal regions, and promoted trading with foreign countries like Japan and Korea. In the meantime, successive emperors in Wuyue Kingdom paid great tribute to Buddhism, and built a number of temples, pagodas, shrines and grottos around the lake area. They expanded Lingyin Temple, founded Zhaoqing Temple, Jingci Temple, Li'an Temple, Liutong Temple and Taoguang Temple, and built Baochu Pagoda, Liuhe Pagoda, Leifeng Pagoda and White Pagoda. The area was thus acclaimed as "Buddhist Country". Lingyin Temple, Tianzhu Temple and the tide of Qiantang were the most famous scenic spots at that time. Due to the geological characteristics, earth deposited speedly in West Lake and dredging became a routine maintenance. Thus in Baozheng 2nd year (927), the emperor of Wuyue Kingdom, Qian Liu, installed a lake-dredging army of 1,000 to mow grasses and deepen springs, and preserved the water body of the lake.
Song Dynasty 
|"The lovely Spring breeze has come
Back to the Lake of the West.
The Spring waters are so clear and
Green they might be freshly painted.
The clouds of perfume are sweeter
Than can be imagined. In the
Gentle East wind the petals
Fall like grains of rice."
|—Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072), excerpts from Spring Day on West Lake|
Over two hundred years later, in the beginning of Song Dynasty's Yuanyou era (1086–1094), another great poet, Su Shi (蘇軾, also known as Su Dongpo), came to Hangzhou as governor. At 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 (蘇堤). "Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring 蘇堤春曉" is one of the attractions.
When Southern Song Dynasty made Hangzhou its capital in 1127, Hangzhou became the national center of politics, economy and culture. The population grew rapidly, and the economy developed greatly. Hangzhou entered its heyday. Wu Zimu of Southern Song Dynasty described the extravagance in his "Dreaming Over a Bowl of Millet (Mengliang Lu)" (夢粱錄), "The life in Lin'an is luxurious in all seasons, full of delight and appreciation with no idle days. In west there is a lovely lake with arresting scenes, and in east the river tides are spectacular. Both are miracles." Besides pilgrims, the tourists in Hangzhou included envoys of foreign countries, businessmen, monks and scholar candidates of the central examinations. The beauty of West Lake started to gain wide reputation. In those days, boating on the lake was a popular entertainment. According to records, there were hundreds of boats in the lake. All were delicately built, with exquisite carving and decorations, and glided gracefully on the water. Poet Lin Sheng vividly described the ostentation in his poem "On a hotel wall in Lin'an". In addition, poet Yang Wanli (楊萬里) also acclaimed the engaging scenery of West Lake in poem "Coming out of Jingci Temple at dawn to see Lin Zifang off".
Yuan Dynasty 
|"Green mountains surround on all sides
the still waters of the lake.
Pavilions and towers in hues of gold
and azure rise here and there.
One would say a landscape composed by a painter.
Only towards the east,
where there are no hills,
does the land open out,
and there sparkle, like fishes' scales,
the bright coloured tiles of a thousand roofs."
|—From Daily life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276|
In the Yuan Dynasty, West Lake was still socially thriving, with a population full of exuberance for singing and dancing. The Book of Yuan, column 23, says, in Zhida 2nd year (1309), "in Hangzhou, Jiang-Zhe area, during half a year there were more than 1,200 foreign visitors. Foreigners Sangwu and Baoheding brought lions, panthers, crows and falcons. They stayed for 27 days. People and animals ate meat of more than 1,300 jin." Increasing number of businessmen and travelers from countries of Turkestan and western Europe came to visit Hangzhou. The most famous among them was Italian explorer Marco Polo, who complimented Hangzhou in his travel notes as "the most splendid heavenly city in the world". In late Yuan Dynasty, there were "Qiantang Ten Scenic Spots", in addition to the "West Lake Ten Scenic Spots" of the South Song Dynasty; the existence of which expanded the scope of tourism. During Zhiyuan years of the reign of Yuan Shizu (Kublai Khan), the lake was dredged, and renamed "pond of freeing captive animals" (放生池). Some of the lake area was gradually enriched and became cultivated zones. In the late Yuan Dynasty, West Lake lacked governmental attention, and plutocrats and noblemen enclosed water zones, so that the lake deteriorated into a desolate state with most of its area silting up and turning into swampland.
Ming Dynasty 
In the Ming Dynasty, Hangzhou began to restore its prosperity in Xuande and Zhengtong years (1426–1449). Then, the local government kept a close watch on West Lake. In Hongzhi 16th year (one source suggests Zhengde 3rd year) the then governor Yang Mengying (楊孟瑛), with the support of special envoy Ju Liang (車粱), obtained approval to dredge the lake, despite much resistance from local magnates. This project was funded by the Engineering Department. "West Lake Tourism Guide" (西湖游覽志), column one of Ming Dynasty recorded, "The work commenced in February....It took 152 days, and 6,700,000 manpowers, and cost 23,607 liang of silver, and got rid of illegal fields 3,481 Chinese acres.... Thus, West Lake recovered to its image in Tang and Song Dynasties." The dredging project extended the water surface from west of Su Causeway to Hongchun Bridge and Mao Jia Bu. The excavated silt was used to broaden Su Causeway, and also used to build a long causeway in western Inside Lake, called "Yanggong Causeway" (楊公堤).
In the 35th regnal year of the Wanli Emperor, 1607, the governor of Qiantang County, Nie Xintang (聶心湯), constructed a circular causeway from south to west outside the Fangsheng Pond of the island "Xiao Ying Zhou", which resulted in a unique view of "Island in Lake, Lake in Island". In the 39th year, Yang Wanli subsequently built the outer bank, and the whole plot was realized by 48th year. Outside the pond were erect three small stony pagodas, called "Three Ponds".
Qing Dynasty 
The Kangxi and Qianlong of Emperors of the Qing Dynasty toured South China and stopping by Hangzhou many times; which helped to expedite the revamping and rehabilitation of West Lake. Kangxi visited Hangzhou five times, and wrote the names of "Ten Scenic Spots of West Lake" selected in Southern Song Dynasty. The local governor then inscribed Kangxi's handwriting onto stelae and built pavilions over them. Thereafter those scenes such as "Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds" and "Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn" acquired fixed locations for appreciation. During the reign of Yongzheng, "Eighteen Scenic Sites of West Lake" had developed into a new nomenclature together with enriched tourism resources. Qianlong visited Hangzhou six times, composing poems as well as erecting stelae for the "Ten Scenic Spots". He also wrote names for "Eight Scenic Spots of Dragon Well", bringing renown to the mountainous scenery of remote the Dragon Well region (Longjing). In Qianlong's reign, two Hangzhou natives, brothers Qu Hao and Qu Han, co-authored a book called "A Glance at Lakes and Hills", recording as many as 1,016 tourist spots around West Lake. This is the earliest known travel guide in Hangzhou.
During the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor, West Lake still preserved a water area of 7.54 square kilometers, but more than 20 acres (81,000 m2) were shoals. Due to extensive dredging projects, the lake area spread beyond the west of now Xishan Road to the neighborhood of Hongchun Bridge, Maojia Bu, Turtle Pond, and Chishan Bu. In Yongzheng's fifth year as Emperor, the governor of Zhejiang and Right Vice Director of the Court of Censors, Li Wei (李衛), spent 42,742 liang in silver in dredging the lake. He built stone weirs in Jinsha Harbor, Chishan Bu, Jingjia Hill and Maojia Bu in order to store water and to flush out the lake silt. In Jiaqing 5th year(1800), governor of Zhejiang Yan Jian (顏檢) beseeched the Court to support a hydraulic project in West Lake. The project was supervised by the late governor of Zhejiang, Ruan Yuan (阮元), had the excavated silt piled into a mound, which was then named "Ruan Gong Dun" (阮公墩 -- "Duke Ruan's Pier"). By then, the modern configuration of West Lake was determined. In the 3rd year of the reign of the Tongzhi Emperor, 1864, the West Lake Dredging Bureau was founded, and a Qiantang native, Ding Bin, was appointed as director.
Republic of China to End of 20th Century 
From the end of Qing Dynasty to the period of Republic of China, constructions included the Shanghai-Hangzhou-Ningbo and the Zhejiang-Jiangxi railways as well as the Hangzhou-Shanghai, Hangzhou-Nanjing, and Hangzhou-Ningbo highways were built. This facilitation of transportation encouraged the development of Hangzhou's tourism. Besides traditional pilgrims, more and more travelers came from domestic cities like Shanghai, Nanjing as well as from Europe, America and Japan. "The special memorial edition of Hangzhou government 10th anniversary" says, from Minguo 19-25 year (1930–1936), the recorded tourists to Hangzhou were counted to 32,845.
Hangzhou's tourism resources became more abundant in the Republic of China era, as scenic spots and cultural relics were steadily added around West Lake. The government converted the imperial garden of the imperial palace remaining from the Qing Dynasty into a park, on Solitary Hill. The official calendar of the Republic was the Minguo calendar, which numbered years from the founding of the Rebublic, and in minguo 16th year, the park was renamed "Zhongshan Park" or "Sun Yat-sen Park". On left side of the park, the Zhejiang Martyry memorial was built, honoring those deceased when the Zhejiang army captured Jinling. In addition, martyr tombs for Xu Xilin and Qiu Jin were constructed near Xiling Bridge. In minguo 6th year, the Dabei Pavilion in Lingyin Temple was erected, and the Yue Wang Temple and Yue Fei's tomb were renovated several times. From minguo 12-20, Huanglong Dong was built. From minguo 12-13, the deserted Qian King Temple was renovated and converted to a garden. In minguo 22, the leaning Baochu Pagoda was revamped.
The construction of parks in Hangzhou started with Lakeside Park in Republic of China era. In 1912, the military government of Zhejiang demolished the city walls from Qiantang Gate to Yongjin Gate as well as the fortress of banners, and built Hubing Rd along the lakeside. Hurdles were put up 20 meters from the lake and flowers and trees were planted. The area was called "Lakeside Park", covering around one Chinese mile and was divided into five parks, first to fifth. In spring of 1930, the city government paved a land of around 21 mu with mud dredged out of the lake from north of Changsheng Rd to Qiantang Gate, and founded Sixth Park. From 1928-1933, Zhejiang's provincial government erected "Chen Yingshi Statue", "North Expedition Martyr Memorial Tower" and "Martyrs of 88 Division in Songhu Campaign Memorial Stela" at the piers of Third Park, Second Park and Fifth Park, respectively.
Due to continuous digging by stealth on its base, Leifeng Pagoda, after lasting nearly a thousand years, collapsed all of a sudden at 1:40pm, September 25, 1924. It was shocking news in media. Lu Xun purposely wrote "Comment on the Collapse of Leifeng Pagoda" and "Second Comment on the Collapse of Leifeng Pagoda", making a remark on this incident. The fall of Leifeng Pagoda also put an end to one of "Ten Scenes of West Lake", "Leifeng Pagoda in the Sunset" 【雷峰夕照】.
From June 6-October 20, 1929, the government of Zhejiang hosted the first "West Lake Expo", and total participants numbered over 20 million. The location of West Lake Expo was set at areas around the lakeside, such as Broken Bridge, Solitary Hill, Yue-Wang Temple, North Hill, and etc. The primary purpose of the expo was to promote national products and encourage enterprises. Besides over 1,000 delegate groups from nationwide, involved included delegates from America, Japan, Britain, Indonesia and other countries. It was the largest and longest pageant in Hangzhou during the Republic of China era.
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Hangzhou was among the first opening tourism cities in the nation. The city government preserved the mountain area around the lake and planted a large number of trees. Meanwhile, West Lake was extensively dredged. Within West Lake scenery zone, new botanical garden and flower garden was opened. Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond (花港觀魚) park, and Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪聞鶯) park were constructed. Fish Viewing at the Jade Springs and Yongjin Park were rebuilt. Lingyin Temple, Jingci Temple, Yue-Wang Temple, Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon (三潭印月), Lake-heart Pavilion and other spots were renovated. In addition, West Huanhu Rd (Xishan Rd), Longjin Rd and Jiuxi Rd were newly built. In 1959, West Lake of Hangzhou received over 1,400 foreign tourists, over 2,300 tourists from Hong Kong and Macao and over 5 million domestic visitors. After Cultural Revolution, the number of tourists to West Lake increased rapidly. In 1978, it received 53,000 tourists from overseas and Hong Kong and Macao combined, in addition to about 6 million domestic travelers.
In May 1983, the state council named Hangzhou "Famed Historical and Cultural City" and "National Key Scenic Tourism City". In September 1984, the executive office of state council instructed that Hangzhou evolve to the tourism center of Southeast China and a first-class international scenic tourism city. Thereafter Hangzhou government refurbished Lingyin Temple, Tianzhu Temple, Jingci Temple, Yue-Wang Temple, Dacheng Hall, stela pavilions of "Ten Scenes" and other relics. Resorts such as Galloping Tiger Spring were expanded. Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷) park was founded. New spot "Exploring Plum Blossoms at Ling Peak" (靈峰探梅) was opened. Archaizing carnivals were held in Huanglong Dong and Ruangong Dun. There were also night gardens and music night markets for amusement.
In 1949, West Lake silted up, with average depth of merely 0.55 meters and capacity only 4 million cubic meters. Marshy weeds blanketed the lake bed so that large boat could only make their ways through specific channels. In 1950, the government listed West Lake dredging as a national investment project. Hangzhou launched the West Lake Dredging Project in 1951 to excavating the silt thoroughly. By 1954, all the work had been mechanized. The project concluded in 1959. As a result, the achieved average depth was 1.808 meters with nadir of 2.6 meters. The capacity elevated to 10,271,900 cubic meters. The silt was used to fill 18 ponds or lacunae in surrounding areas including Zhaoqing Temple and Qingbo Park. However, because of the erosion and sediment on lake bed afterward, the depth of the water lessened to 1.47 meters. The government thus invested 2 million yuan in 1976 to dredge the lake again. By 1980, the depth increased to 1.5 meters. Besides dredging work, the city government substantially fortified the lake shore, resulting in a bank of total length of 29,800 meters. That was the largest bank enhancement project in the history of West Lake. Along with the project, more than 10 piers for mooring the boats were renovated or newly built in Lakeside Park, Zhongshan Park, Yue Fei's tomb and both sides of Su Causeway.
The West Lake Diversion Project was inaugurated on 1 February 1985. The project built a pump at Zhakou section of Qiantang River, and drew 300,000 cubic meters of water daily, equivalent to one thirty-third of total capacity of the lake. As a consequence, the lake's water body transparency was increased by 5 to 7 cm. Other the other hand, The lake-wide sewage interception project was launched in 1978, and was finished in 1981. It was divided into three branches, southern, western and northern, buried sewage tunnels of over 17 kilometers, and was equipped with 10 pumping stations.
In 1984, five organizations including Hangzhou Daily newspaper sponsored voting for the "New Ten Scenes in West Lake". The elected new scenes are Cloud-Sustained Path in a Bamboo Grove (雲棲竹徑), Misty Trees by Nine Streams (九溪煙樹 ), Dreams at Galloping Tiger Spring (虎跑夢泉), Yellow Dragon Cave Dressed in Green (黃龍吐翠 ), Sweet Osmanthus Rain at Manjuelong Village (滿隴桂雨), Clouds Scurrying over Jade Emperor Hill (玉皇飛雲), Inquiring about Tea at Dragon Well (龍井問茶), Precious Stone Hill Floating in Rosy Clouds (寶石流霞), Heavenly Wind over Wushan Hill (吳山天風), and Ruan's Mound Encircled by Greenness (阮墩環碧). While embracing both exquisite natural beauty and abundant cultural deposits, West Lake of Hangzhou was among the first "National Key Scenic Tourist Resorts" in 1982, and elected one of "Ten Chinese Scenic Sites" in 1985.
After 71 years, the West Lake Expo was launched in Xi Hu in 2000. The new exhibition was held from October 20 to November 10, attracting 1,400,000 tourists domestic and overseas. The tourism industry raked in 1.12 billion RMB. The Expo greatly enhanced the reputation of West Lake domestically and internationally. Thereafter the West Lake Expo was made a conventional annual celebration.
Images of the West Lake have appeared various times on Chinese currency. The picture of "Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon" was printed on the backs of both the foreign exchange certificate one yuan bill issued by the government in 1979 and the fifth version of RMB one yuan bill issued in 2004.
West Lake Southern Side Renovation Project 
Entering the 21st century, West Lake witnessed several environmental renovation projects. First of them was "West Lake Southern Side Renovation Project". From February to October 2002, Hangzhou government incorporated four large parks on the southern side of the lake, and these four parks have been free to public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On October 25, 2002, on the old site of the Leifeng Pagoda which collapsed 78 years ago, a new pagoda with height of 71.7 meters was erected.
About the formation of West Lake, there are few records in ancient documents. "West Lake Sight-Seeing Record" (西湖游覽志) of Ming Dynasty, column one, says, "West Lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides. Streams wander down the hills into the pond. There're hundreds of springs underneath. Accumulated water forms the lake." (西湖三面環山，溪谷縷注，下有淵泉百道，潴而為湖。) Modern scholars studied topography, geology, sediment and hydrodynamics, and generally held that West Lake was a lagoon formed gradually from a gulf. In Minguo 9th year (1920), scientist Zhu Kezhen published "The Cause of Formation of West Lake in Hangzhou" (杭州西湖生成的原因) after examining the topography around the lake. He claimed, "West Lake originally was a little bay on left side of Qiantang River. Later the earth in the river sedimented and slowly corked the mouth of the bay, hence a lagoon formed." Zhu postulated, based on the calculation of the rate of sedimentation, that West Lake was formed about 12,000 years ago, when the lake would have been significantly larger than now; and, that the lake's water area had gradually shrunk, due to its being filled by sediments carried down from the creeks in the hills which surround it on three sides. West Lake would no longer exist today without all the dredging work done in the historical period. In 1924, geologist Zhang Hongzhao (章鴻釗) published "One Explanation of the Formation of West Lake". While supporting Zhu's arguments, he supplemented that the formation of West Lake started with tidal force building the lake bank. Later, the alterations of the beach helped to maintain the water level. These were two prerequisites to the formation of the lake.
West Lake not only hosts abundant natural and cultural resorts, it also possesses various plant resources. Around the year, all kinds of flowers and plants in West Lake and on surrounding mountains blossom alternatively, which enriches the landscape of plantation around the lake and also significantly improves the environmental quality of the city.
Peach Blossom: On the lake banks and Su and Bai Causeways a large number of willows and peach trees are planted. It is said one willow is accompanied by one peach tree. Other horticultural plants include Magnolia, Cherry, Confederate Rose, etc. The blooming season of peach tree in Hangzhou usually ranges from end of February to middle of April.
Lotus: Some sites in Hangzhou were named after lotus, such as lotus pond (荷花池頭) and lotus lane (荷花塘弄). There is traditional food called "lotus cake". The fossil of lotus seeds was unearthed in Kuahuqiao Relic in Xiaoshan, which indicates at least before the Tang Dynasty there was cultivated lotus. Yang Wanli of Song Dynasty wrote poem, "Lotus leaves grow to the sky with endless green, lotus blossoms bathed in the sunlight appear especially red. (接天蓮葉無窮碧，映日荷花别样紅), which brought high reputation to the lotus in West Lake. Nowadays, there are 14 lotus cultivation areas in the lake, totally 130 Chinese acres. Most are in "North Inside Lake" and "Yue Lake". According to statistics, West Lake lotus starts to bloom in early June, and reaches peak blossom time in late June. It can last till late August or early September.
Osmanthus: As the city flower, osmanthus is one of representative plants of Hangzhou. Poet Bai Juyi wrote "search osmanthus around the temple on hill in the middle of Autumn", indicating osmanthus had been cultivated as early as in the Tang Dynasty. Osmanthus trees have been massively planted in parks around the lake, and the best-known locations to appreciate are "Sweet Osmanthus Rain at Manjuelong Village", one of "New Ten Scenes of West Lake", and Hangzhou Botanical Garden. Osmanthus can be divided into four major species, Thunbergii group(金桂), Latifolius Group (銀桂), Aurantiacus Group (丹桂) and Fragrans Division (四季桂). Among them, the Thunbergii and Latifolius are the best. Every year around mid-autumn, the sweet-scented osmanthus blossoming is a highlight of tourism in Hangzhou. In addition to its elegant looks, osmanthus is also edible. Thunbergii and Latifolius boast intensive sweet scent, and are natural ingredients for seasoning. Pickled osmanthus blossoms mixed with white sugar became a traditional food of Hangzhou, "Sweet Osmanthus" (糖桂花). West Lake Osmanthus blooming period commences from early September, lasting till early November.
Plum Blossom: Lin Bu (林逋), a famous recluse in the Song Dynasty, lived on Solitary Hill. His poem Little Plum Blossom of Hill Garden (山園小梅) became the best known poem praising the flower and enriched the cultural contributions of the plum blossoms of West Lake. The opening line of the poem says, "When everything has faded they alone shine forth, encroaching on the charms of smaller gardens" (眾芳搖落獨暄妍，占斷風情向小園). Ling Peak, Solitary Hill and West Creek have long been the three finest spots of plum blossom cherishing in Hangzhou. The flowering season is typically around Spring Festival, from late January to middle February.
Tulip: The "Prince Bay Park" (太子灣公园) of Hangzhou imported almost all species of tulips from Netherlands in 1992, and held annual tulips exhibition ever since. It has become a new scenic spot on the lake bank. The normal tulips blossom season spans from middle of March to end of April.
Because the city government has paid increasing attention to environmental protection, the ecological conditions in West Lake area have been gradually improved. Mallards, halcyons and koi carp are among the most frequently spotted animals in the lake. Squirrels loiter among the trees on the bank.
|"I've never traveled to Hangzhou's West Lake
But seem to have met it in my dreams someplace:
A vague and indistinct expanse of water and clouds
Where lotus leaves merge with weeping-willow branches."
|—Huang Zunxian (1848–1905), excerpts from A Trip to Lake Abundant (translation by Jerry Dean Schmidt)|
Xī Hú is said to be the incarnation of Xi Shi, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. Since ancient times, Xī Hú was associated with a large number of romantic poets, profound philosophers, national heroes and heroines. West Lake was also the retreat for many Chinese writers of the past. The Northern Song Dynasty poet Lin Bu, shunning the life of being an official, lived in seclusion by West Lake for twenty years, and dedicated himself to the cultivation of peach and plum blossoms. The great Ming Dynasty essayist Zhang Dai, wrote a number of essays about Xī Hú in Reminiscence and Dream of Tao'an (陶庵夢憶), and a whole book: Search for Xī Hú in Dreams (西湖夢尋). West Lake has had a profound impact on Far Eastern landscape designs, and its features have often been imitated by other palaces and gardens, such as Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace in Beijing, the central ponds of the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden and Koishikawa Kōrakuen Garden in Tokyo, Japan, among others.
Due to its prominent historical and cultural status, West Lake was selected as a National Key Scenic Resort in 1982, one of Ten Scenic Resorts in 1985 and a national 5A tourist resort in 2006.
Along with its cultural importance, West Lake historically was also of value for local commercial fishermen. According to statistics from 1977, the lake had an annual fish yield of 1300 kg/hectare, quite a bit more than for some larger lakes (that is, East Lake of Wuhan had a yield of only 450 kg/ha).
Other attractions include:
- Yue-Wang Temple (岳王廟), the tomb and memorial hall to Yue Fei (岳飛).
- Lingyin Temple (靈隱寺), a Buddhist monastery and surrounding hills and gardens.
- Long Jing tea farms (龍井茶園), an area renowned for the quality of its tea leaves.
- Jingci Temple
- Galloping Tiger Spring (虎跑夢泉), a spring famous for its mineral water.
- Tomb of Su Xiao Xiao (蘇小小墓)
- Tomb of Wu Song (武松墓)
- The West Lake Museum (located on the lake shore) is dedicated to the cultural heritage of the West Lake.
Ten Scenes of Xī Hú 
Traditionally, there are ten best-known scenic spots on the Xī Hú, each remembered by a four-character epithet. Collectively, they are known as the "Ten Scenes of Xī Hú" (10 Scenic Spots in Xī Hú 西湖十景). Each is marked by a stela with an epithet written in the calligraphy of the Qianlong Emperor. They are:
- Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring (蘇堤春曉)
- Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷)
- Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn (平湖秋月)
- Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter (斷橋殘雪)
- Leifeng Pagoda in the Sunset (雷峰夕照)
- Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds (雙峰插雲)
- Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪聞鶯)
- Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond (花港觀魚)
- Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon (三潭印月)
- Evening Bell Ringing at the Nanping Hill (南屏晚鐘)
- Yang, Hongxun and Huimin Wang (1982). The classical gardens of China: history and design techniques. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. p. 111. ISBN 0-442-23209-8.
- "Ancient Chinese cultural landscape, the West Lake of Hangzhou, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List". UNESCO. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- 100 Poems from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth
- Jacques Gernet (1962). Daily life in China, on the eve of the Mongol invasion, 1250-1276. Stanford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 0-8047-0720-0.
- "The Building of New Leifeng Pagoda Completed". Guangming Daily (in Chinese). 2002-10-26. Retrieved 2008-06-01.
- Red Pine. Poems of the Masters. Port Townsend, Copper Canyon Press, 2003, p.453.
- Jerry Dean Schmidt (1994). Within the human realm: the poetry of Huang Zunxian, 1848-1905. Cambridge University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-521-46271-1.
- "Hangzhou's West Lake, the most beautiful in China". Imperial Tours.
- American Oceanography Delegation, Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China (1980), Oceanography in China: a trip report of the American Oceanography Delegation submitted to the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China, Issue 9 of CSCPRC report, Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China (U.S.)., National Academies, p. 13
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