Hangzhou History Tour
Often referred to by the Shanghainese as their own back garden, Hangzhou boasts a treasure trove of historical and cultural sites located just one hour from Shanghai on the bullet train. We asked Newman Tours' founder, Daniel Newman, to tell us about the places he takes his clients to see when visiting Hangzhou.
Xi Hu - What Lurks Beneath The West Lake
One of Hangzhou's most famous sites can be found depicted on the one renminbi bank note you received as change earlier today. It shows three small pagodas peeking out of the calm waters of the West Lake. These distinctive balustrades are thought to date back to the 17th century, but the legend behind them claims that they are much, much older.
Way back in the 5th century, the god of carpentry, Lu Ban, was horrified to learn that his sister's hand in marriage had been granted to an evil monster. Thinking quickly, he pretended to be delighted, and set about making a huge incense burning pot as a wedding gift for the not so happy couple. Taking the bait, the huge ugly monster grabbed Lu Ban's beautiful gift and began swimming with it across the West Lake towards his lair. The incense pot was, however, far heavier than it looked and despite his best efforts, the monster drowned beneath the weight of his burdensome gift. To this day, you can still see the three feet of the tripod on which this incense burning pot once rested poking out of the water.
Fei Lai Feng - The Mountain That Flew Hither
According to legend, the Fei Lai Feng mountain flew to Hangzhou from India, complete with fully formed statues of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas carved into its edifice. The true story behind the many of the statues on display here is, however, a tale of greed and corruption rather than Buddhist piety.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD), the people of Hangzhou rose up in protest against a corrupt Mongolian official that had been exploiting them and stealing their taxes. The extent to which this official had lined his pockets made it look certain that he would be executed, but he commissioned so many Buddhist sculptures in honour of his Emperor, Kublai Khan, that he managed to earn himself an imperial pardon. It just goes to show you that Buddha really can save you from death and rebirth.
Yue Fei Miao - Don't Spit On The Traitors At The Yue Fei Mausoleum
Overlooking West Lake is a building that looks like a temple, and the man it is dedicated too really is worshipped like a god. His name was General Yue Fei, and he successfully defended his fellow Han Chinese from countless attacks from northern adversaries. But despite all his valour and heroism, Yue Fei was executed by the very same people he had fought to defend.
Ironically, the key to Yue Fei's downfall was his military success and popularity. Whilst he was up north fighting for the survival of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279AD), the officials in Hangzhou convinced the Emperor that a General that commanded such loyalty from his soldiers might pose an even greater threat than their northern enemies. And so, Yue Fei was summoned back to the capital in Hangzhou and was beheaded as a traitor.
It was soon realised, however, that a big mistake had been made, and that a great hero had been lost. In an attempt to rehabilitate Yue Fei, a mausoleum was built in his honour, and bronze statues of the officials that persuaded the Emperor to have him killed were placed opposite his tomb. Bowing their heads in eternal shame, these traitors can still be seen in the mausoleum today, but their plight isn't quite as bad as it used to be. For many years, people used to curse at, spit on and urinate over the statues of these officials to show their disgust. This, however, is now forbidden by signs reminding the guests to be civilised despite their patriotic inclinations.