The West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou, comprising the West Lake and the hills surrounding its three sides, has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the 9th century. It comprises numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees, as well as causeways and artificial islands.
These additions have been made to improve the landscape west of the city of Hangzhou to the south of the Yangtze river.

The West Lake has influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries and bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealised fusion between humans and nature.

Brief synthesis

West Lake is surrounded on three sides by ‘cloud-capped hills’ and on the fourth by the city of Hangzhou. Its beauty has been celebrated by writers and artists since the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). In order to make it more beautiful, its islands, causeways and the lower slopes of its hills have been ‘improved’ by the addition of numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees which merge with farmed landscape. The main artificial elements of the lake, two causeways and three islands, were created from repeated dredgings between the 9th and 12th centuries. Since the Southern Song Dynasty (thirteenth century) ten poetically named scenic places have been identified as embodying idealised, classic landscapes – that manifest the perfect fusion between man and nature. West Lake is an outstanding example of a cultural landscape that display with great clarity the ideals of Chinese landscape aesthetics, as expounded by writers and scholars in Tang and Song Dynasties. The landscape of West Lake had a profound impact on the design of gardens not only in China but further afield, where lakes and causeways imitated the harmony and beauty of West Lake. The key components of West Lake still allow it to inspire people to ‘project feelings onto the landscape’. The visual parameters of this vast landscape garden are clearly defined, rising to the ridges of the surrounding hills as viewed from Hangzhou.

Criterion (ii): The improved landscape of West Lake can be seen to reflect Buddhist ideals imported into China from India such as ‘Buddhist peacefulness’ and ‘nature as paintings’, and in turn it had a major influence on landscape design in East Asia. Its causeways, islands, bridges, temples, pagodas and well defined views, were widely copied over China, notably in the summer Palace at Beijing and in Japan. The notion of ten poetically named scenic places persisted for seven centuries all over China and also spread to the Korean peninsula after the 16th century, when Korean intellectuals made visits to the West Lake.

Criterion (iii): The West Lake landscape is an exceptional testimony to the very specific cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of ‘pictures’ that reflect what was seen as a perfect fusion between people and nature, a tradition that evolved in the Tang and Song Dynasties and has continued its relevance to the present day. The ‘improved’ West Lake, with its exceptional array of man-made causeways, islands, bridges, gardens, pagodas and temples, against a backdrop of the wooded hills, can be seen as an entity that manifests this tradition in an outstanding way.

Criterion (vi): The Tang and Song culture of demonstrating harmony between man and nature by improving the landscape to create pictures of great beauty, captured by artists and given names by poets, is highly visible in the West Lake Landscape, with its islands, causeways, temples, pagodas and ornamental planting. The value of that tradition has persisted for seven centuries in West Lake and has spread across China and into Japan and Korea, turning it into a tradition of outstanding significance.


The property contains all the key attributes of Outstanding Universal Value in terms of the lake, the wooded hills surrounding it on three sides up to their skyline and the causeways, islands, bridges, temples, pagodas and ornamental planting that create the beautiful landscape within which are the ten, celebrated, poetic views.  The physical fabric of the property and its significant features are mostly in excellent condition. The Lake itself and surrounding landscapes, along with scenic places, historic monuments and sites are well maintained. No signs of neglect are detected and the deterioration processes seem mostly controlled. Thus none of the key attributes that relate to Outstanding Universal Value are under threat.  The visual integrity of the property is well maintained towards the three hill sides, which seem to have been almost similar for the past 1,000 years. The views to the east are vulnerable to further expansion of Hangzhou city. However, considering the drastic urban changes of Hangzhou city over the past 10 years, from a regional town to a metropolis of eight million people, the property’s visual integrity toward the city side is well managed. The skylines of the buildings are under the strong municipal regulations to maintain current heights and mass limits and to stop expansion that might impact on the skyline of West Lake.


The West Lake still clearly conveys the idea of a ‘lake with cultural meaning’, as all the key components that were created by the time of the Song dynasty can be read clearly in the landscape, and the beauty of the ten views can still largely be readily appreciated. There is an abundance of documents recording the development of the lake (although more for some elements than others) and these are well archived in official institutions. These records and documents are a basis for the authenticity of the property. From ‘cloud capping hills’ and lakeshore settings, down to the single willow trees, and the West Lake itself, all reflect elements of the landscapes as described in the old texts since the 10th century. The views to the east over Hangzhou have changed dramatically over the past fifty years and the lake is no longer closed on its fourth side by a low lying town that relates in scale to the overall landscape and is in itself beautiful (as Marco Polo described). Hangzhou with its tall buildings dominates the view to the east and tends to dwarf the lake buildings. However, the skyline of hills to the north and south as viewed when looking east is still intact and the Baochu Pagoda can be seen against the sky. It will be absolutely crucial that this skyline is maintained and that there is no encroachment of the city behind those hills that are visible from the lake.

Protection and Management requirements

The nominated property is protected at both national and provincial level by laws and regulations. These include the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics (national), Regulations on Scenic Areas (national), Regulations on the Conservation and Management of World Cultural Heritage Sites in China (national), and Regulations on the Conservation and Management of West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou (local). The most relevant national protection is afforded by the national West Lake Scenic area that was promulgated in 1982. The Hangzhou Municipal People’s Government Specific Control Plan for the Buffer Zone of West Lake Cultural Landscape, 2010, puts in place constraints on the overall development of the city in relation to its potential impact on the West Lake landscape. It is crucial that these constraints ensure that there is no encroachment of the city behind the hills that are visible from the lake and that all relevant development is subject to Heritage Impact Assessments that consider impact on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value. Management is the overall responsibility of the Hangzhou Administration of Gardens and Cultural Heritage with advice from the provincial bureau of cultural heritage in Zhejiang and the national State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH). The authority operates both as an ‘internal institution’ and as a ‘grassroots unit’, with various local organisations and with communities and villages. There is however a need to strengthen the community management system and to coordinate the interests of stakeholders.  The Conservation and Management Plan of West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou (2008-2020) provides a basis for the systematic conservation and management of the property and for implementing protection measures in compliance with national standards for the protection of World Heritage sites. There is also a Master Plan for the West Lake Scenic Area, 2002-2020. In order to contain incremental change that might impact on the harmony of the landscape and its key views, an inventory needs to be established of key visual attributes as a basis for monitoring.

The Municipal authority has drafted nine special plans for scenic areas within West Lake. Other special plans have been prepared such as the Master Plan for Transportation in West Lake Scenic Area of Hangzhou, the Plan for the Integration of the South-Route Scenic Places of West Lake of Hangzhou, the Detailed Plan for the Control over the Westward Expansion of West Lake, the Plan for the Protection of the Beishan Historic and Cultural Street, the Detailed Plan for the Control over the Lingyin Scenic Area, and the Plan for the Construction of the New Socialist Countryside in the Hangzhou West Lake Scenic Area.

The West Lake is both robust and vulnerable: it can absorb comparatively large number of visitors but beyond a certain point, the needs of the visitors and their impact on the landscape could impact adversely on the authenticity of the property, on the quality of their visits, and on the ability of the landscape to inspire. Visitor management needs to be given a high priority in relation to the overall management of the property.


The Grand Canal is a vast waterway system in the north-eastern and central-eastern plains of China, running from Beijing in the north to Zhejiang province in the south. Constructed in sections from the 5th century BC onwards, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Empire for the first time in the 7th century AD (Sui dynasty). This led to a series of gigantic construction sites, creating the world’s largest and most extensive civil engineering project prior to the Industrial Revolution. It formed the backbone of the Empire’s inland communication system, transporting grain and strategic raw materials, and supplying rice to feed the population. By the 13th century it consisted of more than 2,000 km of artificial waterways, linking five of China’s main river basins. It has played an important role in ensuring the country’s economic prosperity and stability and is still in use today as a major means of communication.

Brief synthesis

The Grand Canal forms a vast inland waterway system in the north-eastern and central eastern plains of China, passing through eight of the country’s present-day provinces. It runs from the capital Beijing in the north to Zhejiang Province in the south. Constructed in sections from the 5th century BC onwards, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Empire for the first time in the 7th century AD (Sui Dynasty). This led to a series of gigantic worksites, creating the world’s largest and most extensive civil engineering project ensemble prior to the Industrial Revolution. Completed and maintained by successive dynasties, it formed the backbone of the Empire’s inland communications system. Its management was made possible over a long period by means of the Caoyun system, the imperial monopoly for the transport of grain and strategic raw materials, and for the taxation and control of traffic. The system enabled the supply of rice to feed the population, the unified administration of the territory, and the transport of troops. The Grand Canal reached a new peak in the 13th century (Yuan Dynasty), providing a unified inland navigation network consisting of more than 2,000 km of artificial waterways, linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze. Still a major means of internal communication today, it has played an important role in ensuring the economic prosperity and stability of China over the ages.

Criterion (i): The Grand Canal represents the greatest masterpiece of hydraulic engineering in the history of mankind, because of its very ancient origins and its vast scale, along with its continuous development and its adaptation to circumstances down the ages. It provides tangible proof of human wisdom, determination and courage. It is an outstanding example of human creativity, demonstrating technical capabilities and a mastery of hydrology in a vast agricultural empire that stems directly from Ancient China.

Criterion (iii): The Grand Canal bears witness to the unique cultural tradition of canal management via the Caoyun system, its genesis, its flourishing, and its adaptations to the various dynasties and their successive capitals, and then its disappearance in the 20th century. It consisted of an imperial monopoly of the transport and storage of grain, salt and iron, and a taxation system. It contributed to the fundamental link between the peasant economy, the imperial court and the supply of food to the population and troops. It was a factor of stability for the Chinese Empire down the ages. The economic and urban development along the course of the Grand Canal bears witness to the functioning core of a great agricultural civilisation, and to the decisive role played in this respect by the development of waterway networks.

Criterion (iv): The Grand Canal is the longest and oldest canal in the world. It bears witness to a remarkable and early development of hydraulic engineering. It is an essential technological achievement dating from before the Industrial Revolution. It is a benchmark in terms of dealing with difficult natural conditions, as is reflected in the many constructions that are fully adapted to the diversity and complexity of circumstances. It fully demonstrates the technical capabilities of Eastern civilisations. The Grand Canal includes important, innovative and particularly early examples of hydraulic techniques. It also bears witness to specific know-how in the construction of dykes, weirs and bridges, and to the original and sophisticated use of materials, such as stone and rammed-earth, and the use of mixed materials (such as clay and straw).

Criterion (vi): Ever since the 7th century and through successive Chinese dynasties up to modern-day China, the Grand Canal has been a powerful factor of economic and political unification, and a place of major cultural interchanges. It has created and maintained ways of life and a culture that is specific to the people who live along the canal, whose effects have been felt by a large proportion of China’s territory and population over a long historical period. The Grand Canal is a demonstration of the ancient Chinese philosophical concept of the Great Unity, and was an essential element in the unity, complementarity and consolidation of the great agricultural empire of China down the ages.


The canal sections, the remains of hydraulic facilities, and the associated complementary and urban facilities satisfactorily and comprehensibly embody the route of the Grand Canal, its hydraulic functioning in conjunction with the natural rivers and lakes, the operation of its management system and the context of its historic uses. The geographic distribution of these attributes is sufficient to indicate the dimensions, geographic distribution of the routes, and the major historic role played by the Grand Canal in the domestic history of China. Of the 85 individual elements forming the serial property, 71 are considered to be appropriately preserved and in a state of complete integrity, with 14 in a state of lesser integrity. However, the inclusion of recently excavated archaeological elements means that it is not always possible to properly judge their contribution to the overall understanding of the Grand Canal, particularly in terms of technical operation. Furthermore, a paradoxical situation arises for the property: on the one hand, the repetitive succession of long sections of canal does not seem to make a decisive contribution to the Outstanding Universal Value; on the other hand, the continuity of the course of the canal across China, and the continuity of its hydraulic systems, is not well highlighted by a discontinuous series. In conclusion, the power, complementarity and scale of testimony provided mean that the conditions of integrity of the individual sites forming the series are considered to have been met.


All the elements of the Grand Canal presented in the serial property are of satisfactory authenticity in terms of their forms and conceptions, construction materials and location. They appropriately support and express the values of the property. The functions of use in particular are present and easily recognisable in most of the elements. As an overall organisational structure, the Grand Canal sites also express great authenticity in terms of appearance and the feelings they generate in the visitor. There are however two difficulties in the presentation of the property. The first relates to the very history of certain sections of the Grand Canal and the successive dredging, deepening and widening operations they have undergone, along with the technological alterations made to associated facilities. Some of the sections presented have clearly been recently rebuilt, either in the same bed, or alongside the earlier course. The second concerns the landscapes of certain urban or suburban sections of the canal, once again from the viewpoint of a historic canal whose elements are supposed to represent the long history of China. Despite a certain number of reservations, particularly for perceived historical authenticity and the landscape authenticity of certain sections of a heritage which is moreover living and still in use, the conditions of authenticity of the series as a whole and of the individual sites have been met.

Protection and management requirements

In 2008, the List of the six key examples of the cultural heritage of China was promulgated, and includes 18 sections and 49 elements of the Grand Canal. This recognition by the Council of State gives these sites priority in protection terms. However, the legal protection in place requires various improvements and extensions. It is necessary to systematically widen the protection of the banks to include immediately adjacent elements, by extending the buffer zones along the canal.

The state of conservation is generally good, and a determined and diversified conservation policy has been carried out, to its benefit. However, greater attention should be given to: setting archaeological findings into a more critical perspective, clarifying which historical periods are actually represented by sections of the canal, and increasing the efforts made in environmental and landscape conservation.

The management system is based on several levels of responsibility. At national level, under the auspices of the State Council, the coordination of the property’s management is in the hands of the Inter-Provincial and Ministerial Consultation Group for the conservation of the Grand Canal. The group is made up of the governments of the six provinces and of the two cities with provincial status, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), the Water Distribution Office, the Ministry of Water Resources and the other ministerial departments concerned.

The Master Plan is divided into 35 sector conservation plans, all of which have been promulgated and are being applied, up to 2030.  The 2013-2015 Management Plan has led to the fine tuning of protection levels, the improvement and reinforcement of conservation, the enrichment and standardisation of management measures, the precise definition and harmonisation of buffer zone protection, and the development of short-term action plans to improve knowledge of the property.