History of Hangzhou

The history of Hangzhou can be traced back to the culture of Kuahu Bridge, thousands of years ago. The earliest man-made canoe in the world has been found in Hangzhou. The Liangzhu Culture of five thousand years ago, famous for its unique use of jade, is one of the top ten Chinese archaeological discoveries of the 21st century. Among many, this period has come to be known as “the dawn of Chinese civilization.”

During the Qin Dynasty, over 2,200 years ago, the first emperor in Chinese history incorporated Hangzhou – then called Qiantang County - into China's overall territory. In 589 AD, the city became known as “Hangzhou.” “Zhou”is a term referring to an ancient administrative unit of China, while “Hang” refers to a type of sailing ferry that was commonly found at the time. Two years later, Hangzhou built its own protective walls, a sign that it had finally become a true city.

Hangzhou was called the capital for the first time in its history during the Wuyue Country of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, from 907 AD to 978 AD. Outstanding Buddhist architecture, Chinese calligraphy, and paintings emerged during that time, and their influence had spread out to the whole of North East Asia, including countries like the Korean Peninsula, and Japan.

In 1123 AD, the Southern Song Dynasty also chose Hangzhou as their capital, and it remained so for 150 years. This period represents the peak of the city's history. Hangzhou was then the largest international trade center not only in China, but in the entire world. As a political, economic, and cultural center, Hangzhou became a gathering place for many of China’s most outstanding scholars, politicians, literati, and scientists.

During the Southern Song Dynasty, Hangzhou’s economy developed rapidly along with science and technology. Within the realm of industry, various technologies represented by gunpowder, printing, the compass, shipbuilding, silk, porcelain, paper production, and others reached unprecedented levels during this period, and in 13th Century, they were introduced to Europe in succession. According to the 《Encyclopædia Britannica》, the population of Hangzhou had exceeded two million at the time, no doubt making it the largest city in the world, and simultaneously larger than any city in Europe. Venice, for example, only had a population of one hundred thousand people. It's no wonder why, in thirteenth Century Yuan Dynasty, Marco Polo would come to Hangzhou and exclaim with admiration: “Hangzhou is the world's most beautiful and luxurious city!”

From 1636 - 1912, during the Qing Dynasty, Hangzhou always maintained its important status as a prominent southeast city. During this period, the handicraft industry of Hangzhou also developed rapidly: in addition to the traditional manufacture of silk, there also appeared other special products such as Zhang Xiaoquan scissors, Wangxing Ji fans, and Huqing Yu traditional Chinese medicine. The two well known emperors of the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Qianlong, regarded Hangzhou as their first choice to have a holiday or a cruise, and they often visited Hangzhou.

It's well-worth mentioning that in the late 16th century and early 17th century, Hangzhou was one of the main cities that Jewish settlers chose to inhabit, and is therefore widely known as the birthplace of the “Kaifeng Jews.”