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Dear Reader, welcome to the West Lake, Hangzhou. If you arrive by airplane, before the touchdown you must have already been pleasantly surprised to see a fascinating picture, in which the West Lake looks like a sparkling pearl imbedded in between a blue smudge of mountains and a metropolitan city, with the zigzagging Qiantang River floating by like a silver ribbon.

Yes, the West Lake has all along been extolled as a sparkling pearl. Legend has it that the lake used to be an auspicious pearl hewn into its sparkling shape by the Jade Dragon and the Golden Phoenix but it was later stolen by the Mother Queen of the West. When Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix scrambled with the Mother Queen, this pearl accidentally fell onto a land that was known as Hangzhou.

This legend, which is certainly worlds apart from true history, sheds precious light on the fact that the West Lake is a treasure that the labouring people of Hangzhou have brought into shape through numerous generations of hard labour.

In remote antiquity what is today’s Hangzhou and the West Lake was a lagoon, or a quiet arm of the sea. In 210 BC, when Qinshihuang was passing by Qiantang (present-day Hangzhou) on his way to Huiji (present-day Shaoxing) to offer sacrifices and libations to King Yu, the wind rose and the waves in the Qiantang River surged so violently that he had no alternative but to have his ship tethered to a rock at the foot of the Baoshi Mountain south of the West Lake. Today, the rock to which the emperor fastened his boat is still there.

Later, the Qiantang River was silted up and so was the mouth of the lagoon, which appeared and disappeared with the flow and ebb of the sea. It was not until the Sui Dynasty that a lake took shape. The lake was first known as Wulinshui Lake, and later renamed Qiantang Lake. It finally assumed its present name after the city of Hangzhou was moved from the Lingying Mountain to the Phoenix Mountain, with the lake situated in the west . Su Dongpo, a celebrated poet, likened the West Lake to Lady Xizi, and so the lake became also known as the Xizi Lake. Despite its beautiful name, for a long period of time the West Lake was nothing but a natural reservoir that provided water for irrigating the farmland. This fact was borne out by a poem the famous Tang poet Bai Juyi wrote for the local people upon leaving Hangzhou after his tenure as a local official had expired:" As I bid farewell to you all, I have have nothing but to leave behind a lake full of water in case you come across a year of crop failure."

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