Among the world’s top-rated lakes, Hangzhou’s wondrous West Lake is one of the best. The real attraction of West Lake, however, lies not on the surface but in its abundant wealth of legend, myth, and enigma accumulated over various dynasties.
Throughout China, there is no other lake that has caught the imagination of so many poets, scholars, painters, sculptors, calligraphers and even emperors over so long a time. Blessed with enchanting natural scenery and an enduring cultural legacy immortalized by a multitude of poems, calligraphy masterpieces, paintings and sculptures, West Lake’s boundless charm is not only a visual spectacle but also an experience felt by the heart.
To depict its surreal beauty, Su Dongpo wrote in his poetry:
“ The shimmering ripples delight the eye on sunny days.
The Dim hills present a rare view in rainy haze.
West Lake compares to Xi Zi at her best.
She is gorgeous richly clothed or plainly dressed.”
This poetry does full justice to West Lake’s beauty. Resplendent with temples, museums, islands, villas, tea houses, memorial halls, pools, arched bridges, pagodas, monasteries, and casual walkways lined with classic willow trees, the culture-laden West Lake, a consummate performer, is destined to bewitch, mesmerize and overwhelm every visitor taking in its beauty.
The legendry origin of this beloved lake has various versions. One of the most famous sayings holds that a dazzling pearl fell from heaven and morphed into an instantaneous paradise in Hangzhou. A popular poem sheds light on its mystical origin, and it goes like this:
“The West Lake, a dazzling pearl
Falling from the sky,
The Flying Dragon and Dancing Phoenix
Forever standing by.”
Geologists, however, put forward a less romantic view. They state that West Lake was once a lagoon near the mouth of the Qiantang River. What we see today is the action of lasting dredging efforts over the past millennium.
There are many classic tales of love and woe set at West Lake, among which "Lady Snake White" and "Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai" stand out as the two most famous.
Because of its historical and cultural significance, West Lake became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. UNESCO quotes that :
“West Lake is an outstanding example of a cultural landscape that displays with great clarity the ideals of Chinese landscape aesthetics, as expounded by writers and scholars in the Tang and Song Dynasties. The landscape of West Lake has had a profound impact on the design of gardens, not only in China, but further afield, where lakes and causeways have 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.”