Hangzhou (Chinese: 杭州; Hangzhounese pronunciation: [ɦɑ̃.tse], Standard Mandarin pronunciation: [xǎŋ.ʈʂóu] (About this soundlisten)), also romanized as Hangchow, is the capital and most populous city of Zhejiang Province in East China. It sits at the head of Hangzhou Bay, which separates Shanghai and Ningbo. Hangzhou grew to prominence as the southern terminus of the Grand Canal and has been one of the most renowned and prosperous cities in China for much of the last millennium. The city’s West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage site immediately west of the city, is among its best-known attractions. A study conducted by PwC and China Development Research Foundation saw Hangzhou ranked first among “Chinese Cities of Opportunity”. Hangzhou is also considered a World City with a “Beta+” classification according to GaWC.
Hangzhou is classified as a sub-provincial city and forms the core of the Hangzhou metropolitan area, the fourth-largest in China. During the 2010 Chinese census, the metropolitan area held 21.102 million people over an area of 34,585 km2 (13,353 sq mi). Hangzhou prefecture had a registered population of 9,018,000 in 2015.
Hangzhou was repeatedly rated as the best commercial city in the mainland of China by Forbes. As the headquarters of Internet industry enterprises such as Alibaba, Hangzhou has strongly attracted people who work in the Internet industry. Therefore, in the new growing cities that became popular in the 2010s, Hangzhou is one of the main representative cities. Since 2014, the rapid growth of population has caused the rapid growth of local housing prices.
In September 2015, Hangzhou was awarded the 2022 Asian Games. It will be the third city in China to host the Asian Games after Beijing 1990 and Guangzhou 2010. Hangzhou, an emerging technology hub and home to the e-commerce giant Alibaba, also hosted the eleventh G20 summit in 2016.
The celebrated neolithic culture of Hemudu is known to have inhabited Yuyao, 100 km (62 mi) south-east of Hangzhou, as far back as seven thousand years ago. It was during this time that rice was first cultivated in southeast China. Excavations have established that the jade-carving Liangzhu culture (named for its type site just northwest of Hangzhou) inhabited the area immediately around the present city around five thousand years ago. The first of Hangzhou’s present neighborhoods to appear in written records was Yuhang, which probably preserves an old Baiyue name.
Hangzhou was made the seat of the prefecture of Hang in AD 589, entitling it to a city wall which was constructed two years later. By a longstanding convention also seen in other cities like Guangzhou and Fuzhou, the city took on the name of the area it administered and became known as Hangzhou. Hangzhou was at the southern end of China’s Grand Canal which extends to Beijing. The canal evolved over centuries but reached its full length by 609.
In the Tang dynasty, Bai Juyi was appointed governor of Hangzhou. Already an accomplished poet, his deeds at Hangzhou have led to his being praised as a great governor. He noticed that the farmland nearby depended on the water of West Lake, 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, thus providing water for irrigation and 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 West Lake, visiting it almost daily. He also ordered the construction of a causeway connecting Broken Bridge with Solitary Hill to allow walking, instead of requiring a boat. He then had willows and other trees planted along the dyke, making it a beautiful landmark. This causeway was later named “Bai Causeway”, in his honor.
It is listed as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. It was first the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Named Xifu (西府) at the time, it was one of the three great bastions of culture in southern China during the tenth century, along with Nanjing and Chengdu. Leaders of Wuyue were noted patrons of the arts, particularly of Buddhist temple architecture and artwork. The dyke built to protect the city by King Qian Liu gave the Qiantang its modern name. Hangzhou also became a cosmopolitan center, drawing scholars from throughout China and conducting diplomacy with neighboring Chinese states, and also with Japan, Goryeo, and the Khitan Liao dynasty.
In 1089, while another 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 West Lake. 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. A drill in the lake-bed in 1975 found the sediment of the sea, which confirmed 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 lake bottom. 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.
Hangzhou depicted in a French illustration from 1412
Arab merchants lived in Hangzhou during the Song dynasty, due to the fact that the oceangoing trade passages took precedence over land trade during this time. There were also Arabic inscriptions from the 13th century and 14th century. During the later period of the Yuan dynasty, Muslims were persecuted through the banning of their traditions, and they participated in revolts against the Mongols. The Fenghuangshi mosque was constructed by an Egyptian trader who moved to Hangzhou. According to Odoric of Pordenone, Hangzhou was the greatest city in the world. It was heavily populated and filled with large family estates. It had twelve thousand bridges. Bread, pork, rice, and wine were abundant despite the large population. Ibn Battuta is known to have visited the city of Hangzhou in 1345; he noted its charm and described how the city sat on a beautiful lake and was surrounded by gentle green hills. During his stay at Hangzhou, he was particularly impressed by the large number of well-crafted and well-painted Chinese wooden ships with colored sails and silk awnings in the canals. He attended a banquet held by Qurtai, the Yuan Mongol administrator of the city, who according to Ibn Battuta, was fond of the skills of local Chinese conjurers.
Hangzhou was chosen as the new capital of the Southern Song dynasty in 1132, when most of northern China had been conquered by the Jurchens in the Jin–Song wars. The surviving imperial family had retreated south from its original capital in Kaifeng after it was captured by the Jurchens in the Jingkang Incident of 1127. Emperor Gaozong moved to Nanjing, then to modern Shangqiu, then to Yangzhou in 1128, and finally to Hangzhou in 1129. The Song government intended it to be a temporary capital, but over the decades Hangzhou grew into a major commercial and cultural center of the Song dynasty, rising from being a middling city of no special importance to being one of the world’s largest and most prosperous. Once the prospect of retaking northern China had diminished, government buildings in Hangzhou were extended and renovated to better befit its status as a permanent imperial capital. The imperial palace in Hangzhou, modest in size, was expanded in 1133 with new roofed alleyways, and in 1148 with an extension of the palace walls.
From 1138 until the Mongol invasion of 1276, Hangzhou remained the capital of the Southern Song dynasty and was known as Lin’an (臨安). 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 gravitational center of Chinese civilization: what used to be considered “central China” in the north was taken by the Jin, an ethnic minority dynasty ruled by Jurchens.
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 the Encyclopædia Britannica, Hangzhou had a population of over 2 million at that time, while historian Jacques Gernet has estimated that the population of Hangzhou numbered well over one million by 1276. (Official Chinese census figures from the year 1270 listed some 186,330 families in residence and probably failed to count non-residents and soldiers.) It is believed that Hangzhou was the largest city in the world from 1180 to 1315 and from 1348 to 1358.
Because of the large population and densely crowded (often multi-story) wooden buildings, Hangzhou was particularly vulnerable to fires. Major conflagrations destroyed large sections of the city in 1132, 1137, 1208, 1229, 1237, and 1275 while smaller fires occurred nearly every year. The 1237 fire alone was recorded to have destroyed 30,000 dwellings. To combat this threat, the government established an elaborate system for fighting fires, erected watchtowers, devised a system of lantern and flag signals to identify the source of the flames and direct the response, and charged more than 3,000 soldiers with the task of putting out fire.
Hangzhou was besieged and captured by the advancing Mongol armies of Kublai Khan in 1276, three years before the final collapse of the Southern Song. The capital of the new Yuan dynasty was established in the city of Dadu (Beijing), but Hangzhou remained an important commercial and administrative center for their southern lands.
Yuan China was very open to foreign visitors, and several returned west describing Hangzhou—under the names Khinzai, Quinsai, Campsay, &c.—as one of the foremost cities in the world. The Venetian merchant Marco Polo supposedly visited Hangzhou in the late 13th century. In his book, he records that the city was “greater than any in the world” and that “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 manuscripts of Polo’s account greatly exaggerate the city’s size, although it has been argued that the “hundred miles” of walls would be plausible if Chinese miles were intended instead of Italian ones and that the “12,000 stone bridges” might have been a copyist error born from the city’s 12 gates. In the 14th century, the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta arrived; his later account concurred that al-Khansā was “the biggest city I have ever seen on the face of the earth.” Modern history
Jingdezhen Green-and-white-glazed Porcelain Statue of Goddess of Mercy. Yuan dynasty. Unearthed near Wensan Street, Hangzhou in 1987.
The city remained an important port until the middle of the Ming dynasty era, when its harbor slowly silted up. Under the Qing, it was the site of an imperial army garrison.
In 1856 and 1860, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom occupied Hangzhou. The city was heavily damaged during its conquest, occupation, and eventual reconquest by the Qing army.
Hangzhou was ruled by the Republic of China government under the Kuomintang from 1927 to 1937. From 1937 to 1945, the city was occupied by Japan. The Kuomintang returned in 1945, and governed until 1949. On May 3, 1949, the People’s Liberation Army entered Hangzhou and the city came under Communist control. After Deng Xiaoping’s reformist policies began in the end of 1978, Hangzhou took advantage of being situated in the Yangtze Delta to bolster its development. It is now one of China’s most prosperous major cities.
In September 2015, Hangzhou was awarded the 2022 Asian Games. It will be the third city in China to host the Asian Games after Beijing 1990 and Guangzhou 2010. It also hosted the eleventh G20 summit in 2016.