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The History and Culture of Hangzhou 2019-09-20

The history of Buddhism in Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a city with a glorious history and culture. Boasting as one of the seven ancient capitals in China, Hangzhou has a history going back to the dawn of Chinese civilization: the Liangzhu Civilization from about 5000 years ago.. Originally known as Yu Hang, Hangzhou had former names, such as Qian Tang, Lin An and so on. It was the capital of China during the Wuyue Kingdom and Southern Song Dynasy. Ever since the establishment of Qiantang county in the ninth year of Kaihuang's reign in the Sui Dynasty (around 589 A.D), the name Hangzhou had come into being. The digging of the Grand Canal between Hangzhou and Beijing made the city a hub of communications and started its course for metropolitan development, enjoying prosperity in the process. Thanks to its great tradition and history, a regional culture of Hangzhou, highlighted by an elite culture, tea culture, silk culture, porcelain culture and so on, blooms without precedence. 

Before Southern Song Dynasty

Hangzhou first appears in written history as Yuhang and was incorporated into the Chinese empire in 220 BC as part of Kuaiji Prefecture during the Qin dynasty. Traditional Chinese scholars interpreted Yuhang to mean “Yu's Ferry,” due to a legendary account of Da Yu gathering ancient southern chieftains near the area for a grand meeting around 2000 BC.

In the Tang Dynasty, Bai Juyi was appointed governor of Hangzhou. Already an accomplished and famous poet, his deeds in Hangzhouled to his being praised as a great governor. He noticed that the farmland nearby depended on the water of West Lake. However, due to the negligence of previous governors, the old dyke had collapsed, and the lakedried out, causing the local farmers to suffer from severe drought. He ordered the construction of a stronger and taller dyke with a dam to control the flow of water,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 West Lake, visiting it almost daily. He also ordered the construction of a causeway connecting Broken Bridge with Solitary Hill to allow traveling by foot, instead of requiring the services of a boat. He then had willows and other trees along planted along the dyke, making it a beautiful landmark. Afterwards, this causeway was later named "Bai Causeway," in his honor.

Hangzhouplayed a key role in being the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom (907-978) during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. Named Xifu at the time, it was one of the three great centers of culture in southern China during the tenth century, along with Nanjing and Chengdu. Leaders of Wuyue were noted patrons of the arts, and especially of Buddhism and associated temple architecture and artwork. It also became a cosmopolitan center, drawing scholars from throughout China and conducting diplomacy not only with neighboring Chinese states, but also with Japan, Korea and the Liao Dynasty.

After the Song Dynasty was established, Hangzhou became a prefecture. In 1089, while the renowned poet Su Shi (Su Dongpo) was the city's governor, he used 200,000 workers to construct a 2.8 km (1.7 mi) long causeway across the West Lake, which Qing Emperor Qianlong found particularly attractive in early spring mornings. The lake was once a lagoon tens of thousands of years ago. Silt then blocked the way to the sea and the lake was formed. During a drill into the lake-bed in 1975, sea sediment was discovered, confirming its origin. Artificial preservation prevented the lake from evolving into a marshland. The Su Causeway built by Su Shi, and the Bai Causeway built by Bai Juyi, a Tang Dynasty poet who was once the governor of Hangzhou, were both built out of mud dredged from the bottom of the lake. The lake is surrounded by hills on the northern and western sides. The Baochu Pagoda sits on the Baoshi Hill to the north of the lake.

During Southern Song Dynasty

The portrait of Marco Polo
Hangzhou was chosen as the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty. Also known as Lin'an, Hangzhou remained the capital from the early 12th century until the Mongol invasion of 1276. It served as the seat of the imperial government, a center of trade and entertainment, and the nexus of the main branches of the civil service. During that time, the city was a center of Chinese civilization.

Numerous philosophers, politicians, and men of literature, including some of the most celebrated poets in Chinese history such as Su Shi, Lu You, and Xin Qiji, came here to live and die. Hangzhou is also the birthplace and final resting place of the scientist Shen Kuo (1031-1095 AD), his tomb being located in the Yuhang district.

During the Southern Song Dynasty, commercial expansion, an influx of refugees from the conquered north, and the growth of the official and military establishments, led to a corresponding population increase and the city developed well outside its 9th century ramparts. According to some historical records, Hangzhou had a population of over 2 million at that time. It is believed that Hangzhou was the largest city in the world from 1180 to 1315 and from 1348 to 1358.

The Venetian merchant Marco Polo supposedly visited Hangzhou in the late 13th century. His book refers to the city as "beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world." He called the city “Kinsay,” which simply means “capital,” in Chinese. He depicted in his book that the city was over one hundred miles in diameter and had 12,000 stone bridges, and also presented elegant prose about the country: "The number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof." The renowned 14th century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta said Hangzhou was "the biggest city I have ever seen on the face of the earth."

After Southern Song Dynasty

Up to Ming Dynasty, Hangzhou remained an important port hub city. In 1856 and 1860, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom occupied Hangzhou and caused heavy damage to the city. In the Republic of China, Hangzhou was a famous economic and tourist city with great achievements in education, notably the establishment and development of Zhejiang University. After 1949, Hangzhou was selected as the provincial capital of Zhejiang province, and during the implementation of new and reformed policy in 1978, Hangzhou’s economy and culture progressed quickly. Today, Hangzhou is one of three largest metropolitans in East China.
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