Slow Chinese 14
The city of Hangzhou, reputed to be a heaven on earth, is one of China’s most beautiful cities. Its beauty cannot be separated from its water, Hangzhou Xihu (‘West Lake’). Today I will give everyone a taste of Xihu’s beauty.
Legend says that a jade dragon and golden phoenix from the heavens discovered a beautiful precious stone in the galaxy, which together they sculpted. After some years, the stone turned into a resplendent jewel. Wherever the jewels brightness shone down, the trees turned green and the flowers bloomed. But Goddess wangmu, the Queen mother of the West, became covetous, and she dispatched someone to steal the jewel. The jade dragon and the golden phoenix arrived at the Temple in Heaven to fight for the jewel. In a moment of carelessness, the jewel fell down from the heavens, coming to rest on earth, whereupon it instantly transformed into Xihu. This is the origin of Xihu’s legend.
Xihu is situated to the west of Hangzhou city. It is one of China’s ten renowned scenic spots, designated 5A among the nation’s tourist attractions. At 6.5 square kilometers Xihu is very large, one slow circuit of it requiring almost a whole day. Xihu’s water is dark green and reflects the shores’ trees and distant mountains. There is a stone bridge and pavilions as well as large and small travel boats. Most satisfying of all, if you are tired from walking the shoreline’s boulevards you can rest on a bench and listen to the sound of the lake water. Along its surroundings are many flowers, birds, insects and fish. In the different seasons, Xihu has different scenery. Undoubtedly, in summer the lotus attracts people most; in autumn laurels float in the air. There are rare fish in Xihu’s waters; pure white doves float above the surface of the water, and in winter I go to see the peacocks by the lake, showing me their beautiful plumage. Every few years, Hangzhou’s people vote to pick out Xihu’s ten most beautiful scenic spots, called Xihu’s Ten Scenes. They all have pretty names, such as sudichunxiao, Basil Bank Spring Dawn; duanqiaocanxue, Broken Bridge Tarnished Snow; santanyinyue, Three Pool Engraved Moon; and liulangwenying, Willow Wave Fragrant Oriole. Broken Bridge Tarnished Snow features on the reverse side of the 1 yuan note.
Xihu is filled with places of cultural interest. This is because Hangzhou has been Jiangnan’s center of culture since ancient times, and was once the capital of several Wang dynasties. Thus, noblemen and scholars have left behind a store of valuable heritage. There are many Buddhist temples in the vicinity of Xihu, such as Lingyin Temple, Jingci Temple, etc. There are two pagodas on the mountain, one called Leifeng Pagoda and the other called Baochu Pagoda. Leifeng Pagoda is worth entering for a look around. There are a lot of fine works of art inside. Standing on its roof, you overlook the whole of Xihu. Famous poet of the Southern Song Dynasty Su Shi wrote, “It is always appropriate to desire Xihu over Xizi [one of the four legendary beauties], however they be attired.” In Su Shi’s mind, Xihu was as a beautiful woman, and appeared wonderful regardless of its look. Su Shi had formerly maintained Xihu, constructing the famous Sudi. Also, the poet Yang Wanli has the line, “Boundlessly green, the lotus leaves connect with heaven; her flowers red in the sunlit glow.” This beautiful verse is read and memorized by young students. With regard to the legend of Xihu, apart from The Xihu Jewel story mentioned at the outset, there is also The Tale of the White Snake, and the tale of the lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. These frequently repeated legends are amongst China’s foremost classics.
Finally, one thing I think is worth pointing out is that on three sides of Xihu are mountains, whilst on the other side is a view of Hangzhou city. In order to protect the horizons of Xihu, Hangzhou has formulated laws restricting the construction of tall buildings. Xihu’s local government has also decided that Xihu’s surrounding houses must be compatibly beautified and clean. I really appreciate this, because China’s cities have often developed with speed to the point where the natural landscape is destroyed. Now people should start to remedy this, with Hangzhou leading the way. Xihu’s beauty is boundless. I can only describe a small part of it. To discover the rest, you must go yourself.
Neil Armstrong (email@example.com)