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A Brief History of Hangzhou

A Brief History of Hangzhou

The completion of the Grand Canal, with Hangzhou as its southern terminus in 609 AD, first marked the city on the map, but it wasn’t until the Song dynasty was ejected from Kaifeng and relocated here that Hangzhou really started to blossom. As the capital of the Southern Song (1126-1279) dynasty, Hangzhou attracted merchants, artisans, poets and artists and its silk trade started in earnest. By the time of Marco Polo’s supposed visit in the 13th century, the city had a population of a million. Although there is some doubt as to whether Marco Polo actually ever made it to China, his description of Hangzhou sounds accurate and he cites the city as the most opulent in the world!With the fall of the Song some of this splendor was lost, but Hangzhou remained a strategic trading post for silk. It enjoyed revived imperial patronage under the Qing, although the Taiping Uprising destroyed most of the city.

These days, as the provincial capital of Zhejiang, Hangzhou thrives upon its reputation as the most romantic city in the country and is a prime weekend getaway destination. But silk and tea are also cornerstones of both tourism and the city’s economy, along with more modern industries such as electronics and pharmaceuticals. However, Hangzhou is still part of China and the bright lights have attracted a wave of rural migrants, many of whom end up begging on the streets. If Marco Polo were to visit Hangzhou again he’d see the merchant boats replaced by Ferrari and Porsche showrooms, but he might be surprised by the abject poverty that exists side-by-side with this ostentatious wealth and lakeside beauty.

Last updated October 16, 2008
Posted in   China  |  Hangzhou
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