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West Lake in Guangzhou you may not know

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :May 9, 2020


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It is well-known that West Lake is an iconic and symbolic scenic spot in Hangzhou and is regarded as one of the most beautiful sights in China. But you might not know that there was another West Lake once existing in Guangzhou for over 800 years, from which the present Xihu Lu (West Lake Road) near the famous Beijing Lu got its name.

The story had to begin with Liu Yan, who established the Southern Han Dynasty in 917 in Guangzhou. Liu not only devoted major efforts to developing economy and promoting overseas trade during his reign, but also spared no money to construct luxurious palaces and gardens, including an artificial lake. The lake was located in the west of the Guangzhou city, hence the name West Lake (Xihu). 

Covering a total area of 100,000 square meters, the lake boasted breathtaking scenery, with beautiful plants around and a spectacular islet in the center. The islet was known as Yaozhou (Medicine Islet) for it was built by Liu for alchemists in pursuit of immortality.

It is said that there were nine rare stones on the islet, and this is why it was also called Jiuyaoyuan, a garden of nine stones. 

Decorated with the lake, bridge, stones and plants, the islet was endowed with a pleasant view and became a famous scenic spot for the upper class during the Song Dynasty. 

If the islet in the lake was exclusive to the nobles, the flower fair nearby was a paradise for commoners to admire flowers. Originated from the Southern Han Dynasty, the flower fair near the West Lake enjoys a long history, and has become a must-go spot in present-day Guangzhou during Chinese Spring Festival.

In the Ming Dynasty, the scenery around the lake was listed among the Eight Sights of Canton, a tradition of selecting a list of eight fascinating scenic spots starting as early as the Song Dynasty. 

During the Qing Dynasty, many academies were built around the lake, creating a unique view at that time.
Besides government-run academies, ancestral academies were also built by clans from all over Guangdong province to offer temporary accommodation when members of the clans came to Guangzhou to take provincial imperial exams.

Unfortunately, with time passing by, the West Lake gradually shrank into a pond due to exhausted watercourses and commercial expansion, leaving only the Yaozhou site and the Xihu Lu behind.