The West Lake

by Roman Serdar Mendle

The West Lake is the most famous city waters of China. Thanks to its fairy-tale bridges and islands, it has been since many times scenery of many tales and poems of love, and it still arouses, just by barely mentioning it, romantic feelings in the hearts of many Chinese.

A legend says that once a dragon and a Phoenix argued about a pearl, causing it finally to fell on earth where it transformed into the west lake. However, it has it real origins dating back to the time of Tang-dynasty, where it was initially the bay of the Quian Tang river, which then was separated from the river by human hand and dug out to its present average depth of 1,5-2 m. 


Two famous dams divide the west lake into three parts. The Su-dam which was erected by the Song-poet Su Dongpo and is well-known for its six fabulously decorated bridges, which even were exactly copied to decorate the Summer Palace of Beijing. The other dam, on the northwest side of the West Lake, is named after Bai Juyi (also a poet) and called Bai-dam (Bai-Di). It has been built some time earlier than the other one, namely at times of the Tang-Dynasty. 

The islands Xiao Yingzhou and its both smaller sisters Huxinting and Ruangongdun have also been artificially created, in similar fashion to the two dams and the lake in general, whereby Xiao Yingzhou (“little paradise island”)  was planned to resemble the form of a wheel with four spokes, arousing the impression of a “lake within the lake”.  

On the rear side of the Chinese 1 Yuan bank note, you can find one of the most famous sights of the West Lake. If standing on the south end of the Xiao Yingzhou Island, you can see three stone pagodas on the lake. At night, their inside is illuminated by candles, whereby the candle lights fall onto the water surface through round openings, creating a reflection looking similar to the moon. This appearance is the reason for its name Santan Yinyue (“three depths that mirror the moon”).

For good reasons, swimming in the west lake is forbidden – just imagine all inhabitants of Hangzhou would go swimming into the west lake at Sundays. – Therefore, one can only reach the islands by boat. One can approach the west lake at closest by taking one of the traditional West-Lake-boats, led by a rower.

Altogether 36 copies of the west lake, to be found in China and other East Asian countries like Japan give sufficient testimonial to the enormous inspiration that the lake can give to many people.

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