Post Classical Hangzhou, China
By Scott Buck
Take a trip back in time to the a land with mesmerizing beauty, Hangzhou. Hangzhou was one a China's premiere cities during the post- classical era. It is located in China's North Eastern region. China went through several dynasties in during the post classical era (600-1450 CE) including the Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, and Ming. During these periods Hangzhou played an important role in trade and culture in China, which may be one of the reasons it still remains and important city in modern day China. In addition it is also considered one of China's eight "Ancient Capitals." Prior to touring this historic city; reading this agglomeration of useful facts and information on the history of this awe-inspiring city will surely enhance your visit.
While many cities actively participated in Chinese trade few had as large of an impact as Hangzhou; this is because it was one of the two terminals for the Grand Canal. The second terminal is China's current capital, Beijing. The Grand Canal is currently the world's longest man made waterway stretching a monstrous 1800 Kilometers. This canal was not a single project though, rather its construction took place over multiple dynasties. While construction of this project may have started as early as the turn of the century; its official unification as a canal took place during the Sui Dynasty. Speculation estimates that nearly 3 million workers died from the hard labor and the project was massively unpopular among the public, many contribute it to being a major factor that eventually led to the demise of the dynasty even. Eventually construction accumulated and it was formed into the modern Grand Canal. Regardless of its public implications it undoubtedly served an important role in China's internal trade. During this time trade was booming in China. China played a key role in the Indian Ocean trade; also they established trade over the silk roads that were producing an unprecedented stimulus in trade due to the recent emergence of the Islamic World. The city of Hangzhou participated more so in the internal operation of this trade. Merchants could utilize the canal to transport their commodities, such as silk, rice, and spices to coastal Hangzhou. From Hangzhou the goods could be directly shipped, or more likely they would travel to cities such as Quanzhou and Guangzhou who were active participants in the Indian Ocean trade. With the Grand Canal linking major rivers like the Yellow and Yangtze and major cities the Grand Canal had a profound influence on the internal trade and transportation within China; With Hangzhou being the final city on the canal it gained enormous wealth and fame which may be why it has been shaped into the magnificent city that still stands today.
Culture and Society:
China is a land rich with historical culture and it gains its impetus from a major source: Confucianism. Confucianism is a social structure that strongly focuses on education and sense of role in society. Confucianism was developed by Confucius during the period of warring states; a time period where Legalism and Daoism emerged as well. Confucius thought that the reason for China's political unrest was due to a lack of education and role in society, so he tried to implement these thoughts into government. While he was largely unsuccessful during his lifetime his disciples organized his teachings into a text called the Analects. These teachings eventually became the basis for all of Chinese society; including Hangzhou. More specifically pertaining to Hangzhou; th city attracted poets, politics, and even explorers. Hangzhou was a hot spot for merchants due to the large influx of items flowing through the town as they passed to other destinations. While items continued to flow through Hangzhou, so too, did influential people. Around 1000 CE song writers such as Su Dongpo composed songs remarking on Hangzhou's beauty, particularly the West Lake. Around 1080 CE Su Shi, a world renowned actor and poet, became a resident and government official of Hangzhou. Around the end of the post classical era Hangzhou even attracted the famous explorer Marco Polo. He was drawn by the city's beauty and even became a High Official in Hangzhou in 1284 during the Yuan Dynasty.
Location on Post- Classical Trade Networks:
China played an integral role in the Indian Ocean Trade and on the Silk Roads. China was a terminus of both these networks since the New World was not active in international trade during this time. Similarly to how Hangzhou is the terminus on the Grand Canal; China was a terminus in international trade. Likewise the nation as a whole took a similar role as Hangzhou. It housed and exported many goods and became an economic powerhouse. China had major ports on its eastern coast that stimulated trade. Also during this time China had important relations with the Islamic world due to their location on the Silk Roads as Chinese merchants traded commodities such as silk, spices, and porcelain.
Buddhism began to flourish during this period in China. The religion reached China through trade along the Silk Roads from India as early as 100 CE. Buddhism was spread slowly among China and gained its footing over time. The first cultural boom for Buddhism occurred during the beginning of the Post Classical Era during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Hangzhou began seeing major Buddhist influences around 950 CE when the Lingfing Temple was established near West Lake. Over time several more temples were built and Buddhism left its permanent mark on the city. Although they played a more minor role the religions of Christianity, Taoism, and Islam had influence in Hangzhou.
Reasons for Growth:
Hangzhou was destined to be a largely successful city once the Grand Canal was established. The commodities and people that traveled the canal gave the city the funds needed to establish a grand city with money in such ample supply. Aside from its obvious economic advantage the city gained power from another source. During the Song Dynasty Emperor Gaozong was forced to migrate south. He then established Hangzhou as the capital as of the Southern Song Dynasty, hence its place as one of China's eight Ancient Capitals. During this time agriculture flourished in China as well. In unison with its trade success China's total population gained nearly 60 million new inhabitants during this period.
Introduction of the iron plow and improved irrigation techniques led to an increase of agricultural production during this time period. Hangzhou's major role was the distribution of food along the Grand Canal, which is one of the reasons China experienced such a large population increase during this time. In terms of general China during this era there were many innovations including gunpowder, the introduction of the credit system, magnetic compass, paper money, and coined currency. Also, China was well known for their impressive ships.
Now that you have a brief history of Hangzhou's rich culture you will be able to enjoy your trip with full immersion into this historical city. Many of the historical area's have been refurbished and are sure to please tourists with their genuine quality. Reading about Hangzhou is one thing, but that's only experiencing it with one of your senses. Come experience Hangzhou's tastes, smells,sounds, and beautiful sites. So what are you waiting for? Call us now at 1-800-HANG to schedule a trip!
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