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Living la Dolce Vita in Hangzhou


A popular Chinese saying that has survived the centuries expresses the ideal life thus "to be born in Suzhou, to eat in Guangzhou, to live in Hangzhou and to die in Liuzhou." The reason why life in Hangzhou would seem so perfect may be found in the resplendent West Lake , the evergreen rolling hills, the various sacred temples, the fragrant fields of Dragon Well Tea, the delicious food and, more importantly, the well-preserved traditional culture.

For foreign travelers, the capital of Zhejiang Province is definitely the place that matches the China of their imagination before they come to the country, while for Chinese tourists the city is a destination where they can enjoy a leisurely respite from their fast-paced lives, and relax amid natural luxury. Hangzhou, two hour's drive from its busy neighbor Shanghai, is located in the south of the Yangtze River Delta on the country's east coast. The urban area of Hangzhou encompasses 3,068 square kilometers and has a population of more than 3.7 million, while the greater Hangzhou region covers over 16,500 square kilometers, including eight administrative districts and five counties. The end of the Tianmu Mountain Range makes up the hilly areas of the city. The major waterways in the area are the Qiantang River, running from east to west, the north-south Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, and the Tiaoxi River, all of which are inter-connected. History of the city The history of civilization in Hangzhou goes back 8,000 years, beginning with the Kuahuqiao Culture of the Neolithic Age in Xiaoshan. Chinese historians regard the Liangzhu Culture as the first peak of the city's development. It existed roughly 4,000 - 5,300 years ago, and archaeological discoveries of material proof, like carbonized rice seeds and jade carvings, point at 5,000 years of civilization in the area. King Qian, the founder of the Wuyue Kingdom in the time of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907-960), made Hangzhou his capital. The devout Buddhist monarch turned the land into a Buddhist realm and the religion flourished along the Qiantang River. Therefore, thoughts of warless worlds and peace-seeking and people-centric communities established the foundation of Hangzhou's ideology and culture. Politically, the kingdom was the only one of its time not to be affected by the civil war sweeping across the country. This enabled its people to develop rapidly and cultivate their considerable skills in silk weaving, tea production, papermaking, brewing, and porcelain making. Consequently, the kingdom marked the second peak of Hangzhou's civilization. The most remarkable era of the city's history was during the Southern Song Dynasty (AD 1127 - 1279), when the capital was moved from Kaifeng in Henan Province to Hangzhou, after the defeat of the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960-1127) at the hands of the Jin Dynasty (AD 1115-1234). This made Hangzhou the political, cultural, and economic center of China. The urban population rocketed to more than 1 million after numerous migrants flocked there from the Central Plains. What's more, the city's fame drew many foreigners from more than 40 countries around the world to live in the city under various exchange programs. Taoism and Buddhism reached their peaks during this period, when a great number of temples sprang up citywide. Many of them can still be seen today. The modern city The downfall of the Southern Song Dynasty was mainly caused by the dispirited kings whose minds and thoughts were intent upon nothing but bodily pleasures. This has resulted in the impression among the Chinese over the centuries that Hangzhou is such a leisurely city that it can erode one's fighting spirit. The Hangzhou city government has made a concerted effort to refresh people's thinking, by pegging the city as an "Oriental Capital of Leisure" under the concept of a good balance between work and play. The leisure industry which combines travel, sports, entertainment and art has brought considerable benefits to the city, and sparked the flowering of the local service industry. In an effort to improve the city's reputation abroad, the Hangzhou government has intensified overseas marketing promotions over the past few years, by focusing on neighboring countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea in particular and expanding the tourism market in Europe and the United States. In addition, the revival of the West Lake Expo has played a crucial role in not only promoting tourism in Hangzhou, but also in attracting more foreign investment. The very first West Lake Expo of 1929 is regarded as the biggest exhibition the country has seen in modern times, showcasing China's wide range of products to the outside world. The newly resumed annual event has more than 100 promotional programs in the fields of leisure and travel, conference and training, exhibitions, sports and literary activities. To a large extent, the expo has been a major driving force for the city's double-digit gross domestic product growth. The World Leisure Expo 2006, one of the most important international events in China in the new millennium, no doubt added luster to the Oriental Capital of Leisure, with more than 20.4 million tourists from all over the world attending within a six-month period. Meanwhile, Hangzhou has forged ahead in establishing a "city of quality life". The new project claims to improve people's quality of life in the next five years in terms of economy, culture, environment, politics and society, and hopes to make the city one of the most desirable places to live in China. In February, Hangzhou was named the "Best Tourism City of China" by the National Tourism Administration of China and the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Discovering Hangzhou In order to make it easier for foreign tourists to discover the charms of Hangzhou, the Hangzhou Tourism Committee has circulated 2.4 million copies of "Hangzhou Travel Guide" since 2004, printed in Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean. Free copies are available in three-star hotels or above and at tourist information centers, as well as various travel centers, airports, railway stations and coach stations in Hangzhou. Apart from this, there are two free periodicals for foreign visitors and residents Taste Hangzhou (a Japanese bimonthly magazine) and Hangzhou Weekly (an English weekly newspaper), offering a window into the modern life and cultural developments of the city. Hangzhou Tour Center, located on Huanglong Road, is the largest in the Yangtze River Delta, combining self-service travel, tourist information and transition centers, as well as hotel and ticket bookings. It has introduced more than 100 long or short routes for single travelers or groups.

(Source:China Daily , 2007-03-28)