Hangzhou is the capital and largest city of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China. It sits at the head of Hangzhou Bay, which separates Shanghai and Ningbo. Hangzhou grew to prominence as the southern terminus of the Grand Canal and has been one of the most renowned and prosperous cities in China for much of the last millennium, due in part to its beautiful natural scenery. The city’s West Lake is its best-known attraction.
In September 2015, Hangzhou was awarded the 2022 Asian Games. It will be the third Chinese city to play host to the Asian Games after Beijing 1990 and Guangzhou 2010. On November 16, 2015, President Xi Jinping announced that Hangzhou would host the eleventh G-20 summit on September 4–5, 2016.
SOUTHERN SONG DYNASTY
Hangzhou was chosen as the new capital of the Southern Song dynasty in 1132, when most of northern China had been conquered by the Jurchens in the Jin–Song wars. The Song court had retreated south to the city in 1129 from its original capital in Kaifeng, after it was captured by the Jurchens in the Jingkang Incident of 1127. From Kaifeng they moved to Nanjing, modern Shangqiu, then to Yangzhou in 1128. The government of the Song intended it to be a temporary capital. However, over the decades Hangzhou grew into a major commercial and cultural center of the Song dynasty. It rose from a middling city of no special importance to one of the world’s largest and most prosperous. Once the prospect of retaking northern China had diminished, government buildings in Hangzhou were extended and renovated to better befit its status as an imperial capital and not just a temporary one. The imperial palace in Hangzhou, modest in size, was expanded in 1133 with new roofed alleyways, and in 1148 with an extension of the palace walls.
From the early 12th century until the Mongol invasion of 1276, Hangzhou remained the capital and was known as Lin’an. It served as the seat of the imperial government, a center of trade and entertainment, and the nexus of the main branches of the civil service. During that time the city was a gravitational center of Chinese civilization: what used to be considered “central China” in the north was taken by the Jin, an ethnic minority dynasty ruled by Jurchens.
The city of Hangzhou was besieged and captured by the advancing Mongol armies of Kublai Khan in 1276, three years before the final collapse of the empire. The capital of the new Yuan Dynasty was established in the city of Dadu (Beijing).
The Venetian merchant Marco Polo supposedly visited Hangzhou in the late 13th century. In his book, he records that the city was “greater than any in the world.” He called the city Kinsay, Quinsai, or Kinsai, which is unrelated to its then-current names but seems to be a Persianized form of the Chinese word for “capital”. Although he exaggerated that the city was over one hundred miles in diameter and had 12,000 stone bridges, he still presented elegant prose about the country: “The number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof.” The renowned 14th century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta said it was “the biggest city I have ever seen on the face of the earth.”
Numerous philosophers, politicians, and men of literature, including some of the most celebrated poets in Chinese history such as Su Shi, Lu You, and Xin Qiji came here to live and die. Hangzhou is also the birthplace and final resting place of the scientist Shen Kuo (1031–1095 AD), his tomb being located in the Yuhang district.
During the Southern Song dynasty, commercial expansion, an influx of refugees from the conquered north, and the growth of the official and military establishments, led to a corresponding population increase and the city developed well outside its 9th century ramparts. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Hangzhou had a population of over 2 million at that time, while historian Jacques Gernet has estimated that the population of Hangzhou numbered well over one million by 1276. (Official Chinese census figures from the year 1270 listed some 186,330 families in residence and probably failed to count non-residents and soldiers.) It is believed that Hangzhou was the largest city in the world from 1180 to 1315 and from 1348 to 1358.